This cacio e pepe recipe is essentially a grown up version of mac and cheese that is acceptable to order at a nice Italian restaurant and still seem like an adult. It’s also just as easy to make as mac and cheese so no need to be intimidated! This pasta is has no added cream, it is a sauce composed entirely of cheese made creamy with the addition of starchy pasta water. Many versions are made with only Pecorino Romano, however, I like the rounded flavor using both Pecorino Romano and Parmesan Reggiano.
Cacio e pepe has its roots in the 15th century when Romans would eat pasta with light cheese. It has stood the test of time for a reason, it is simple yet delicious. For another creamy pasta recipe with just a few ingredients try bucatini carbonara.
Cacio e pepe is typically made with spaghetti though it can be swapped for another noodle like spaghetti alla chitarra, tubular bucatini or flat, wide noodles like linguine can be used instead. I’d recommend sticking with dried pasta rather than using fresh pasta for this recipe since the sauce is made by stirring the pasta with the cheese and pasta cooking water. Fresh pasta can sometimes be too delicate. The pasta cooking water is used to create the creamy cheesy sauce.
I recommend using freshly cracked black peppercorns in this recipe. If your pepper grinder doesn’t do a coarse grind, use the flat side of a knife to press down and roll over the whole peppercorns or use a mortar and pestle. Fresh black pepper will provide more flavor that previously ground.
Pecorino Romano is a hard, salty Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk. While I like the flavor of the combination of both cheeses in this recipe, it can easily be made with one or another. The Roman pasta dish is traditionally made with Pecorino Romano.
Parmesan-Reggiano is definitely one of my favorite cheeses. It’s a hard cow’s milk cheese aged for different lengths of time. I’d recommend buying a roughly cut piece of wrapped cheese from the grocery store – it’s typically a higher quality cheese. In this recipe I’d recommend grating it just before adding to the pasta to get the smoothest sauce possible.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add in the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until more al dente than normal since it will continue to cook later, about 6 minutes.
Reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water thn drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add the butter and allow it to melt. Add the black pepper and let cook, swirling or stirring constantly, until the pepper is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the pasta to the pan, tossing to coat in the pepper mixture. Add ½ cup of the reserved pasta water and toss to combine.
In a small bowl combine the grated cheese together. Turn the heat off and slowly add the cheese about 2 tablespoons at a time, constantly tossing the pasta with tongs to coat.
If the sauce gets clumpy, add more of the cooking liquid a tablespoon at a time. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to toss until the pasta is entirely coated with the creamy cheese sauce.
Serve immediately in warmed pasta bowls.
What to do if the sauce gets clumpy
Adding the cheese too fast or at too low or high a heat can create a clumpy sauce. If your sauce clumps, I recommend returning the pan to low heat and slowly adding a bit more pasta cooking water and tossing the pasta with tongs.
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