My favorite cacio e pepe recipe is easy to make in about 30 minutes with just 4 simple ingredients.
Anthony Bourdain once said that cacio e pepe “could be the greatest thing in the history of the world.”
And I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree. ♡
This classic Roman pasta easily ranks up there as one of our family’s all-time favorite comfort foods. We cook up a batch of cacio e pepe at least once or twice a month, often turning to it in a pinch because we make it a point to keep the three main ingredients — “cacio” (cheese), “pepe” (black pepper), and pasta (we usually opt for bucatini) — always stocked in our kitchen. Barclay’s usually in charge of grating up a big pile of cheese while I make a big green salad or some roasted veggies to go on the side. Then once the pasta is ready to go and tossed with that irresistibly glossy cheese and pepper sauce, we always waste zero time dishing it up and grabbing a fork and diving in. There’s nothing better than a steaming hot bowl of cacio e pepe!
That said, as simple as the cacio e pepe ingredient list may be, this dish is famously finicky when it comes to technique. If the cheese is overheated or the starchy pasta water isn’t emulsified properly, the sauce can turn into a sticky, clumpy mess, which I can vouch from experience is always such a tragedy. So this week, while we are revisiting the four classic Roman pasta recipes, I went in and updated this post with all of the best tips for cacio e pepe success that I’ve learned over the years. We also added in a new video below that will hopefully provide some visuals to help clarify each step of the process. And we also now have a pronunciation guide, so that all of us non-Italians can give the name of the dish the proper respect it deserves.
I do want to note that I prefer to add a bit of butter to my cacio e pepe, which I’m well aware is not authentically included in traditional cacio e pepe, and makes this more similar to Roman-style Alfredo. However, after having made and ordered this dish dozens and dozens of times both withand without butter, I’ve decided that I just really love the extra hint of flavor that it adds. You’re welcome to include butter or leave it out, so I’ve included instructions for both options below.
Alright, let’s make some cacio e pepe together!
Video | How To Make Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e Pepe Ingredients
Here are a few notes about the cacio e pepe ingredients that you will need for this recipe:
Pasta: Thick spaghetti, bucatini, or tonnarelli are the three pasta shapes most often traditionally used when making cacio e pepe, but this recipe will work with just about any pasta shape you happen to have on hand. I recommend using bronze-cut pasta, if possible, since the rougher edges will help the cacio e pepe sauce better adhere to the pasta.
Pecorino Romano: This aged sheep’s cheese is always traditionally used in the Roman pastas, and its salty, grassy, earthy flavor is absolutely delicious in cacio e pepe. That said, during one of my cooking classes in Rome, my professor swore by using a 50/50 blend of Pecorino and Parmigiano (Parmesan), which I’ve also tried and agree is delicious.
Butter: Yes!! I know this is a controversial and certainly a non-traditional ingredient in cacio e pepe, which is typically made with only cheese and pepper. But as mentioned above, I’ve made this dish dozens of times both ways and have decided I simply prefer it with a bit of butter. You’re completely welcome to omit the butter though and just add some more starchy pasta water in its place.
Black pepper: It’s very important to freshly ground the black pepper to give this recipe optimum flavor, so grab your pepper mill instead of the pre-ground black pepper you can buy at the store. I definitely prefer my cacio e pepe heavy on the “pepe” (black pepper), but know that many people are sensitive to black pepper, so please feel free to use however much you prefer to taste. Also please note that the recipe calls for coarsely-ground black pepper. If you only have finely-ground black pepper on hand, you will need to use less.
Cacio e Pepe Tips & Troubleshooting
Before we get to the full cacio e pepe recipe below, here are a few tips to keep in mind when making this pasta:
Read through the recipe first. This recipe is not difficult to make, but it does require a bit of multitasking that goes very quickly once you begin cooking the pasta. So I recommend taking a few minutes to read the entire recipe fully before you begin cooking.
Finely-grate the cheese by hand. As always, it’s important to grate the cheese by hand versus buying pre-grated cheese at the store (which usually contains anti-caking agents that prevent the cheese from melting smoothly). I recommend using a microplane or your preferred grater to finely grate the cheese just before adding it to the recipe.
Be sure to use a large enough sauté pan. You are going to need ample room to toss the pasta when combining it with the sauce, so it’s important to use a large pan or stockpot that has plenty of space.
Have a strainer or tongs ready to go. I find it’s much easier to use a spider strainer (or tongs, if using long noodles) to transfer the pasta directly from the stockpot to the sauté pan. But if you do not own either of those, you can use a heatproof cup to scoop out a few cups of the starchy water (it’s always good to reserve more than you need, just in case). Then you can drain the pasta in a colander and transfer it immediately to the sauté pan.
Don’t use too much pasta water. We want the starches in the pasta water to be very concentrated for this recipe, which will later help to emulsify the cheese sauce and adhere it to the pasta. So I recommend filling your stockpot no more than half full (about 3 quarts).
Don’t overcook the pasta. In Italy, it’s very important that the pasta is served al dente so that it still has a nice firm bite to it. Since the pasta will continue cooking slightly while it is tossed with the sauce, it’s important to keep a close eye on the pasta during the final few minutes of cooking so that you can transfer it over as *soon* as it just barely reaches al dente.
Don’t overheat the sauce. If you’ve ever had the cheese clump up or stick to the pan when making cacio e pepe (very common, but always such a tragedy!), it was likely due to the cheese being overheated. Be absolutely sure that the burner is turned off below the sauté pan with the melted butter. (If you have an electric stove, it’s best to transfer the pan to a cool burner since the original will still retain heat.) And toss the pasta continuously after you add in the cheese so that it can be exposed to cooler air and not overheat while sitting still in the pan.
Serve immediately. This pasta is definitely best served immediately hot out of the pan, so dish it up as soon as the sauce has emulsified and enjoy!
What does “cacio e pepe” mean? It means “cheese and pepper,” referencing the Pecorino cheese and black pepper used to make the sauce.
Where did cacio e pepe originate? The exact origins and evolution of the dish are controversial among historians, as all of the Roman pastas tend to be. Some believe cacio e pepe “first appeared centuries ago among shepherds spending the spring and summer months in the grazing meadows of the Apennine Mountains, which traverse the Italian peninsula. While keeping watch over their flocks, shepherds would tap into personal stores of dried pasta and pepper; cheap, easy to transport and resistant to spoilage, these two ingredients were combined with the cheese (made from milk of the herders’ flocks) to make a delicious, simple dish that kept them warm on cold evenings.” That said, some modern historians believe the origins of cacio e pepe may have been less romantic, likely developing “in the mines and factories that once surrounded the Lazio region encompassing Rome, near where low-income families once lived.”¹
How do I prevent the cheese from clumping or sticking to the pan? This dish is famously finicky and prone to clumping if the cheese sauce does not properly emulsify. As mentioned above, always always finely grate the cheese by hand versus purchasing pre-grated cheese at the store. Be absolutely sure that the sauté pan with the butter has been removed from the heat (or a still-hot burner) before adding the pasta. Be sure to toss the pasta quickly and constantly once you begin adding the cheese. Then as soon as the cheese begins to emulsify and melt into a glossy, smooth, dreamy sauce, serve the pasta immediately. This pasta is always best served hot out of the pan.
The 4 Roman Pastas
Interested in trying out all four of the classic Roman pastas? These traditional recipes won’t let you down!
Boil the pasta water. Fill a large stockpot about halfway full of water (roughly 3 quarts) and bring it to a rolling boil. Generously season the water with fine sea salt (about 2 tablespoons).
Bloom the pepper. Meanwhile, as the pasta water heats, melt the butter in a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium heat. Add the pepper and let it cook for 30 seconds, then turn off the heat. If you have an electric stove, you’ll want to remove the pan from the hot burner entirely.
Cook the pasta. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is just barely al dente.
Toss the pasta. Use tongs* to quickly transfer the pasta directly to the sauté pan with the melted butter and pepper. Add 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta water to the pan and toss the pasta briefly to combine. Add in half of the cheese and toss the pasta briefly to coat. Add in the remaining half of the cheese and continue tossing the pasta, adding in a few extra tablespoons of starchy pasta water if needed to thin out the sauce, until the cheese is melted and forms a smooth and glossy sauce.
Serve. Serve the pasta immediately, garnished with an extra twist of black pepper and/or extra Pecorino if desired. This pasta is definitely best served hot out of the pan, so please enjoy it right away!
Butter: Feel free to use less butter, if you prefer. Or you can also omit the butter entirely and just use extra starchy pasta water in its place, which is the traditional way to make cacio e pepe.
Black pepper: I like my cacio e pepe heavy on the “pepe” (black pepper) and always add extra as a garnish. If you are sensitive to black pepper, however, you may want to use less than the recipe suggests. Also please note that the 1 teaspoon measurement is for coarsely-ground black pepper. (So if you are using finely-ground pepper, you will need to use less.)
Tong alternatives: If using a shorter pasta shape (such as rigatoni), I recommend transferring the pasta with a spider strainer instead. Or if you do not own either, you can scoop out a few cups of the starchy pasta water and reserve the water in a heat-safe bowl, then drain the rest of the pasta in a colander and transfer it to the sauté pan.
Recipe edit: This recipe was edited in 2022 to include 2 instead of 3 tablespoons of butter, and the instructions were updated and clarified as well.
I followed the recipe without changes. It was delicious! My hubby and I devoured it. Thanks for this easy, tasty, and wonderful recipe!
Just made this for lunch with a gf….topped it off with a little fresh diced tomato…it was insanely delish! Your instructions are easy and spot on…I did decide to add the freshly grated cheese to the pasta just after I had tossed it with the pepper/water and it worked perfectly. I agree with the tip of using less water when cooking the pasta in order to ‘up’ the starchiness. Thanks for a great recipe! I think you could not do better in Rome or New York with this dish!
Sauce came together nicely. Followed directions but use 4 Tbsp butter. Nice time I’ll add a bit more pasta water in the butter but I did add more than the recipe called for. Used Locatelli and it melted beautifully. Only real complaint was it was too salty so I’ll back off the salt in the pasta water. Also, I may have cooled things down a bit too long. Overall, great pasta dish!
I saw Cacio e Pepe for the first time on on an episode of No Reservations and had it in restaurant once shortly later. I’ve been meaning to make it myself for years but never did until tonight. This recipe seems pretty authentic. I didn’t have enough pecorino romano so I used part fresh parmesan. I didn’t want to stop eating this! Served it with some wilted spinach so I could feel partly good about myself. I want to try again soon with all pecorino, add a little salt and use fresh pasta instead of boxed.
Back when we first got married this was a great treat for us. I remember it had a raw egg mixed with the hot pasta. Have you ever seen that used in this recipe or has adding a raw egg gone out of fashion?
I fell in love with cacio e Pepe in Italy – now its one of my husband’s specialities! And bucatini is a must – so glad you can find this noodle much more readily in the states these days! 10 years ago that wasn’t the case!
LA PREPARACION ES EXCELENTE, NUTRITIVA Y APETITOSA. 5 ESTRELLAS.
I make this recipe at least weekly for lunch or dinner since I always have the ingredients on hand for a quick tasty meal. Garlic is a must with extra pepper; I also use olive oil instead of butter with the starchy water since I have to watch my cholesterol levels (sigh). Chopped parsley and garlic chives are colorful as a garnish. Thanks for this great recipe!
There is no butter and no olive oil in cacio de pepe. You may have a very delicious dish, but it is not cacio de pepe. The culinary skill is to make a creamy sauce with just the cheese and the pasta water. That’s the way it’s done. Adding fat, olive oil or butter, makes it easy. A home cook’s shortcut.
Since I am a home cook, that’s okay with me.
I ended up making this with a wide egg noodle as I did not have regular spaghetti on hand and it was delicious! I am half Italian and pride myself on my bolognese style sauce. I always make a hearty one but this was a very nice alternative…especially to be able to offer to my people who can’t eat tomatoes…Sometimes you just want a light pasta night and this is it! I had forgotten about this type of recipe and was very glad to be reminded and the results were very pleasing. Its like mac and cheese but better and not so heavy. Grazie!
Just like all your recioies, this was DELICIOUS. Of course I forgot to have fresh pepper and I didn’t save the pasta water butttt it was still so good! Thanks Ali! :)
Question – If you are using fresh, homemade pasta, do we need to make any adjustments to how the pasta is cooked?
Made this last night and it was wonderful. Thanks so much for this recipe. Cabbage egg-drop soup is next on my hit list!
My cheese did not melt completely and ended up in clumps. It still tasted good, but was not creamy like I expected.
Ended up tasting okay overall, but it was too watery and I didn’t even take out as much starchy water as the recipe suggested. My cheese also clumped up. Would love to hear any tips!
This can out amazing. Its a simple dish but a great base to many other add ins. The dish lends its self to inspire the incorporate a host of other flavors.
Make this Jan!!
Great recipe. We also add sausage and it’s the bomb. Thanks.
I wished I’d scrolled to the most recent comments first. I also had a clump of cheese but put it back on the heat to get it to melt apart and redistribute. The overall flavor was really good but took off a star since the original recipe changed which has impacted the results. I’ll try again and then determine if I’ll reduce the butter, too.
I was skeptical, but this shortcut method worked really well! Thanks, Ali!
I tried Alton Brown’s recipe after seeing it on his show. Unfortunately it was really lumpy and had too much pepper. I’m glad I stumbled upon your recipe because it was perfect! Admittedly I eyeballed the cheese and pepper, and went by taste. Great smooth consistency, and easy to make!
I love this recipe, but for some reason, the cheese clumped in the pan and looked more liked mozzarella than parmesan. One cup of water was too much. Next time I’ll try 3/4 cup. I love this website! Not sure what happened.
My husband and I love this recipe! I usually make this about twice a month. It’s so easy and absolutely delicious!
Just a note: I avoid any clumpy cheese by only using a 1/2 cup of the hot starchy water. I grate the cheese very finely and I sprinkle it in slowly as I quickly toss it. It works perfectly every time. I hope this helps!
OMG delicious, thank you!
If you run into trouble and everything clumps up tossing in a spoonful of cornstarch can help incorporate the cheese into the sauce. Ask me how I know?
I’ve had this dish many times in Rome because it is one of my absolute favorites. My comment about the above recipe is that Italians never ever use butter or garlic in cacio e pepe. Feel free to do as you wish. I’m just putting in my two cents, for what it’s worth.
So, followed the directions and just ended up with all of the cheese clumped together forming a cheesy silly putty ?…maybe add the cheese in slowly with the water rather than dumping the cheese all in?
I had the same issue, however i added a bit of heat under it with a bit more water(i only really used about 1 cup+ a bit more) and the cheese melted. Not sure if that will work for you but it did for me.
Cacio e Pepe does not contain butter. Adding butter makes it closer to a traditional Alfredo. There should be no added fat in a Cacio e Pepe.
Excellent quick meal. I have made before but without butter. This took it to the next level in my opinion. Also only had angel hair pasta and it worked fine.
made it tonight…perfect! the whole family loved it!
Just made this for lunch using Fettuccine and Pecorino Romano. and IT. IS. AWESOME!! So easy and quick to make. I used the one pot method and it was plenty peppery for us.
The dish is vegetarian, but not vegan. Vegetarians do not eat meat, but still consume and use other animal products.
Parmesan? Butter? Congratulations you made Alfredo not Cacio e Pepe. There’s no butter or oil in cacio e pepe plus ask you stated above unlike this video it’s Pecorino not Parmesan.
Use Pecorino Romanno as your ONLY choice of cheese. This dish was originated in Rome. All of the great chefs there would walk out of the room if you suggested any other cheese.
HI ALI, AFTER A FAILED ATTEMPT FOLLOWING THE RECIPE FROM ANOTHER BLOG, I READ AND RE READ YOUR TIPS AND CACIO E PEPE SPAGHETTI CAME OUT SO WELL. GOT THAT LOVELY CREAMY SAUCE THAT COATED THE SPAGHETTI SO WELL. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL THE TIPS. I SAUTEED SOME CHOPPED GARLIC SEPARATELY IN SOME OLIVE OIL AND ADDED IT TO THE PASTA ALONG WITH THE PEPPER AND CHEESE. TASTED AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS.
Love this dish but please don’t butcher the Italian! Cacio is pronounced just like it looks . . kaacho.
Enjoyed this recipe a lot. Of course I added things – cooked rotisserie chicken, bacon, and spinach – to make it a more complete meal. Will make again.
Sounds like a dish my family will enjoy. Any suggestions for a good side dish?
word of caution- pecorino cheese is very gamey and not for everyone
We had this last night with home made spaghetti (also your recipe), and we loved it! I think this will be on a very regular rotation in our home.
Well, tbh I read about a dozen recipes and the comments online before freaking out about making this simple recipe that I love in restaurants. All of them were full of comments agonizing over clumpy messes. This one seemed straightforward and a good place to start. We used a good quality dried spaghetti and I used Pecorino Romano and parmesan both grated on a microplane grater. Once the pasta was done my butter was starting to brown so I poured some of the pasta water in to stop that and then added the pasta. I just started grabbing some of each of the parm and pecorino and throwing it into the dish while stirring it vigorously. Added a touch more of the water and it was in a really good place.
My only guess is that a lot of the clumping is coming from people using pre-grated cheese from the store. Seriously, for something this simple, I think you need to just grate it at home yourself. Fresh cracked pepper is also a must.
Thanks for a very good recipe!
The only thing I didn’t like was the butter. The Caccio e Pepe I had in Italy was not that oily. I appreciate the mention at the end that you can cut butter out entirely, and use only starchy water (the traditional way) but I wish I saw this information up top.
Our family is OBSESSED with this recipe. The kids request it at least once a week, and I’m happy to oblige because it’s so simple. The sauce always turns out for us too thanks to your tips. 10 stars from our kitchen!
Amazingly good! We had to use Parmesan since we didn’t have Pecorino at home and it was still great.
We fell in love with this pasta this summer during our trip to Italy. I had never purchased Pecorino before but our guide on a food tour said that it is essential with cacio e pepe, so we picked up a block and tried your recipe when we got home. My husband said it feels like we’re back on vacation. Thank you!
Our family loves this recipe!