Cacio e Pepe

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This traditional Cacio e Pepe recipe only takes about 20 minutes to make, with 4 easy ingredients.  It’s the perfect impromptu recipe for pasta night!

Cacio e Pepe Recipe

So friends! I don’t do this very often, but I’m back today with a very important recipe update that is going to make your life even easier…and even more delicious.

Meet my newly-revised, 4-ingredient, 20-minute, truly-deeply-foolproof cacio e pepe recipe. ♡♡♡

Many of you have made and loved the original cacio e pepe recipe that I posted here on the blog a few years ago.  But some of you reported back that you were having issues with the cheese sauce clumping a bit, which it could be prone to do when made separately on the side if the temperatures of the ingredients weren’t quite right.  So I went back to the drawing table this winter, and experimented with just about every possible method in the world to make cacio e pepe.  And in the end, I have good news for us all — the absolute easiest way to make cacio e pepe ended up being the winner, both in terms of taste and reliability!

So grab your four simple ingredients — pasta, cheese, black pepper and butter — and let’s make an epic batch of this “grown up mac and cheese” together.  You are going to love it.

Cacio e Pepe Recipe | 1-Minute Video

Bucatini Pasta

What Is Cacio e Pepe?

Actually, a quick history lesson before we get to the recipe — so exactly what is cacio e pepe?

Literally translated, cacio e pepe means “cheese and pepper” in Italian.  (Also, the second “c” in Italian is pronounced as a “ch”, so it sounds like “kah-cheeoh eh peh-peh.”)  For centuries, this famous cheesy pasta dish has been a staple in Roman cuisine.  It is traditionally made with thick spaghetti (traditionally bucatini), Pecorino cheese (or you could sub in Parmesan), and loads of freshly-cracked black pepper.  Then instead of adding in lots of heavy cream to make the cheese sauce, all you need are a few ladle-fulls of the boiling starchy water that was used to cook the pasta.  I also like to add in a few tablespoons of butter, because I’m convinced it takes this dish over the top into next-level pasta heaven, but you are welcome to omit those if you prefer.

Basically, it’s the original mac and cheese — made with black pepper and Pecorino.  And it is delicious.

Cacio e Pepe Recipe

Cacio e Pepe Ingredients:

Alright, next, a few quite notes for you about the 4 ingredients needed to make this cacio e pepe recipe!  You will need:

  1. Pasta: Noodles are traditionally used for this dish (bucatini specifically, although thick spaghetti, linguine or fettucine noodles would work well too).  Or if you really want to take this recipe to the next level, try making it with homemade pasta!
  2. Pecorino or Parmesan: Cacio e Pepe is best when made with a good, aged, freshly-grated Pecorino Romano cheese.  But we often make ours at home with Parmesan cheese when we don’t have Pecorino on hand, and I can vouch that it works great too.  One very important note about cheese though — you must use freshly-grated cheese when making cacio e pepe.  The pre-grated stuff in the refrigerated section (or in that famous green jar) simply will not melt well into this sauce and will likely make it clumpy and gritty instead.  So put your biceps to work and grate the cheese by hand (I use this grater) and I promise it will be worth it.
  3. Freshly-cracked black pepper: I love a nice coarse grind for cacio e pepe, but we did note on our trip to Rome that almost every restaurant we visited used a fine grind of black pepper in their cacio e pepe instead.  So — up to you!  If you do use a finer grind, note that you will need a smaller quantity of black pepper.  And as always, you will get more flavor if the black pepper is freshly ground in a pepper mill.
  4. Butter: I like to use butter in the sauce for extra flavor, but you can omit the butter (and just use a bit of extra starchy pasta water) if you prefer.  To help the butter melt quickly, I recommend cutting it into 1-tablespoon chunks before adding it to the pasta.

You will also need a stockpot 2/3 full of water to cook the pasta, generously-seasoned with sea salt (which will help to flavor the pasta and cheese sauce).

How To Make Cacio e Pepe

How To Make Cacio e Pepe:

So here’s my easy, breezy, foolproof way to make the best cacio e pepe!

  1. Cook the pasta.  In a large stockpot full of generously-salted water, boil your pasta until it just barely al dente.  Try to avoid overcooking the pasta.
  2. Grate the cheese.  To save time, I recommend finely grating the cheese while the pasta water comes to a boil.
  3. Reserve some of the starchy pasta water.  Once the pasta is about 1 minute away from being al dente, scoop 2 cups of the starchy boiling pasta water into a separate heat-proof container and set it aside.
  4. Drain the pasta.  Transfer the pasta to a colander and drain off all of the remaining water.  Then transfer the pasta back to the hot stockpot, placed off of the burner.
  5. Add the butter, starchy water, cheese and black pepper.  Add in the diced butter and 1 cup of the starchy pasta water and toss quickly to combine.  Add in the cheese and black pepper and quickly toss to combine. Continue to gradually add in extra starchy pasta water, as needed, until the cheese has completely melted and turned into a silky sauce that coats the pasta evenly.
  6. Serve.  Then dish it up immediately!  Cacio e pepe is definitely best when served hot off the stove, so serve it up right away — topped with extra shredded cheese and black pepper, if you would like — and enjoy!

(Note: The directions above are definitely the easiest — and my preferred — way to make this recipe.  But if you would like a more prominent black pepper flavor, you can toast the pepper on its own in a separate sauté pan for a few minutes or sauté the pepper in melted butter for a few minutes, and then add the pepper/butter to the pasta as directed.

That said though, after testing this recipe with and without the extra pepper-toasting step, we honestly could hardly taste the difference.  And the one-pot method definitely saves you from having to wash an extra sauté pan!  But I wanted to mention this option for those of you who might be interested.  Of course, if you’re craving extra black pepper flavor, you can also simply add a few extra shakes of freshly-cracked black pepper to the pasta too. ♡)

Best Cacio e Pepe Recipe

Cacio e Pepe Variations:

There are so many ways that you could customize this traditional cacio e pepe recipe if you would like!  For example, feel free to:

  • Make it gluten-free: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta noodles.
  • Add garlic: Sauté a few cloves of minced garlic in the butter, then add the mixture to your pasta.
  • Add crushed red pepper flakes: I also love adding in a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to give the pasta a subtle kick.
  • Add a protein: Cacio e pepe would also be delicious with some cooked chicken, shrimp or bacon added in.
  • Add veggies/greens: You could also add in your favorite cooked veggies (mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini and red peppers are a few of our faves) or greens (wilted spinach, kale, collards, etc).
  • Add nuts: I can also vouch that this pasta is delicious when finished with a sprinkle of toasted nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, etc).
Print

Cacio e Pepe

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 2 -3 servings 1x

Description

This traditional Cacio e Pepe recipe only takes about 20 minutes to make, with 4 easy ingredients!  Feel free to double the recipe if you would like to use a standard-size package of pasta.


Scale

Ingredients


Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta.  In a large stockpot of generously-salted water, boil your pasta according to package instructions until it just barely al dente.  (Try to avoid overcooking the pasta.)
  2. Grate the cheese.  While the pasta water comes to a boil, finely-grate the cheese by hand.
  3. Reserve some of the starchy pasta water.  Once the pasta is about 1 minute away from being al dente, carefully scoop out 2 cups of the starchy boiling pasta water and transfer the water into a separate heat-proof container.  Set aside.
  4. Drain the pasta.  Drain the pasta using a colander.  Then transfer the pasta back to the hot stockpot, placed off of the hot burner.
  5. Add the butter, starchy water, cheese and black pepper.  Add in the diced butter and 1 cup of the starchy pasta water and toss quickly to combine.  Add in the cheese and black pepper and quickly toss to combine. Continue to gradually add in extra starchy pasta water, as needed, until the cheese has completely melted and turned into a silky sauce that coats the pasta evenly.
  6. Serve.  Dish up the hot pasta and serve immediately, garnished with extra cheese and black pepper if desired.


Notes

Butter: Feel free to use less butter, if you prefer.  Or you could also omit the butter and just add in a little extra starchy pasta water, as needed.

Optional black pepper step: The directions above are definitely the easiest — and my preferred — way to make this recipe.  But if you would like a more prominent black pepper flavor, you can toast the pepper on its own in a separate sauté pan for a few minutes or sauté the pepper in melted butter for a few minutes, and then add the pepper/butter to the pasta as directed. That said though, after testing this recipe with and without the extra pepper-toasting step, we honestly could hardly taste the difference.  And the one-pot method definitely saves you from having to wash an extra sauté pan!  But I wanted to mention this option for those of you who might be interested.  Of course, if you’re craving extra black pepper flavor, you can also simply add a few extra shakes of freshly-cracked black pepper to the pasta too. ♡)

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70 comments on “Cacio e Pepe”

  1. 5 stars
    Finally found the perfect step-by-step recipe. This was super easy and so delicious! Allowing the sauce to cool and slowly adding the cheese while whisking was key. Creamy and smooth. This was a big hit!

  2. 5 stars
    Yum! Came out great. Added a bit of olive oil.

  3. Your instructions are far more specific – and useful – than any other cacio e pepe recipe I’ve come across. I’ve tried it so many times, and it’s always a clumpy mess.

    The key part you include and others don’t is the instruction to take the butter/garlic/water mixture off the stove and let it stand for three minutes — three minutes! — before stirring in the cheese.

    Thank you!

    I think this time it’s going to be fantastic.

  4. I followed the recipe without changes. It was delicious! My hubby and I devoured it. Thanks for this easy, tasty, and wonderful recipe!

  5. 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!

  6. worth noting that both cheeses used in this dish are not vegetarian as they use animal rennet.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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!

  11. LA PREPARACION ES EXCELENTE, NUTRITIVA Y APETITOSA. 5 ESTRELLAS.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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! :)

  16. Question – If you are using fresh, homemade pasta, do we need to make any adjustments to how the pasta is cooked?

  17. Made this last night and it was wonderful. Thanks so much for this recipe. Cabbage egg-drop soup is next on my hit list!