Best Cacio e Pepe Recipe

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5 from 10 votes

With just 4 ingredients and 30 minutes, I have the secret trick to making the creamiest cacio e pepe – one of the four classic Roman pastas you shouldn’t miss!

Anthony Bourdain once said that “if…in Rome for only 48 hours, I would consider it a sin…to not eat cacio e pepe.” I couldn’t agree more.

It’s hard to forget my first bowl of cacio e pepe in Rome. It was hard to comprehend how pasta water and cheese could make such a silky, creamy sauce that coated every little piece of pasta. How was there no butter or cream in there? How? The generous amount of black pepper added way more than a touch of heat; it added earthy, piney flavor. I didn’t know black pepper was capable of tasting so good.

For all pasta lovers, whether you make it out to Rome itself or whether you make a little piece of Rome at home, cacio e pepe is a bucket list adventure.

What is cacio e pepe? It’s a classic Italian pasta dish, originating from Rome, that translates to “cheese and pepper” in English. It is a super simple yet flavorful dish made from just pasta, black pepper, cheese, and pasta water to create a creamy sauce. Although some Romans argue that cacio e pepe should only be made with pecorino romano, the version I had in Rome was made with all parmigiano-reggiano. It was extra creamy with incredible, complex flavor. I’ll never go back to just pecorino.

The key to cacio e pepe is making a creamy sauce made only from cheese and pasta water. It’s crucial to vigorously mix the cheese and pasta water to create a “cream” before incorporating it into the cooked pasta and pepper mixture – and mixing vigorously again. While many recipes call for butter or cream, these versions are not authentic!

I prefer to use a short pasta like orecchiette that scoops up lots of that delicious cheese sauce, and that’s easier to really swirl around in a big pot, which is a crucial step in achieving that ultra creamy sauce. A creamy sauce that’s nutty and complex, mixed with an aromatic kick from the pepper, cacio e pepe is a testament to the simple beauty of Italian cuisine, where a few high-quality ingredients come together to create magic. Pasta alla Genovese is another Italian Culinary adventure worth taking.

Video: Watch Me Make Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe Ingredients

  • Orecchiette pasta – while spaghetti is classic, orecchiette is easier to whirl around in a big pot, which is crucial in making the creamy sauce. These little pastas also scoop up the sauce so much better than spaghetti does!
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano – while using just pecorino is often how you’ll see cacio e pepe made, I like using all parmigiano-reggiano. Parmigiano is a cow’s cheese that’s nuttier with a touch of sweetness and creates so much more of a creamy sauce than pecorino. Buy a block and finely grate it! You can use a 50/50 blend of parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino romano if preferred, but the result won’t be as creamy.
  • Freshly cracked black pepper – black pepper is the “pepe” part of cacio e pepe. Crack your own pepper; don’t buy pre-ground.
  • Salt – a touch of salt added to the pasta water is classic.
  • 4 quarts water – too much water to boil the pasta will dilute the pasta water. Too little water will make it difficult for the pasta to cook. 4 quarts of water is ideal for perfect cacio e pepe.
Cacio e pepe ingredients
I recommend using only parmigiano-reggiano for the creamiest pasta, but you can use a 50/50 blend of parmigiano and pecorino romano cheese if desired.

How to Make This Cacio e Pepe Recipe

Learn how to make classic cacio e pepe the way the Romans intended it! Full instructions in the recipe card; this is an outline!

  1. Prepare.

    Prep all ingredients beforehand.Prep ingredients beforehand.

  2. Cook.

    Boil 4 quarts of water, adding salt. Cook pasta until about 30 seconds shy of al dente.Cook the pasta.

  3. Toast.

    Toast black pepper in a large pot (not pan) for 1-3 minutes over medium heat when the pasta has about 3 minutes left of cooking.Toast the pepper in a big pot.

  4. Reserve.

    Reserve 1 ½ cups of pasta water right before you drain the pasta.Reserve 1 1/2 cups of pasta water right at the end.

  5. Pour.

    Add 1 cup of pasta water to the pepper pot. Do not stir.Add 1 cup of pasta water to the toasted pepper.

  6. Mix.

    Mix drained pasta vigorously into the peppery water for 1 minute over medium heat.Mix pasta into the peppered pasta water.

  7. Combine.

    In a bowl, combine cheese and ½ cup pasta water for the cheese “cream”. Stir well.Create a cream but mixing cheese and pasta water.

  8. Add.

    Add half of the cheese cream to the pasta, vigorously mixing over medium heat, until combined and creamy.

  9. Add more.

    Incorporate the remaining cheese cream. Vigorously stir until a creamy, uniform sauce has been created over medium heat.Add cheese mixture to pasta and mix vigorously.

  10. Serve.

    Serve immediately, garnished with black pepper and cheese.Serve cacio e pepe right away.

Pro Tips

Although cacio e pepe requires only a few ingredients, it can be a bit tricky to master the art of making perfect cacio e pepe! Here are some tips and tricks to help you ace it:

  • Grate your own cheese: don’t buy pre-grated cheese. Grate your own using the fine setting of a cheese grater. Buy the highest-quality cheese you can find!
  • Use all parmigiano-reggiano: for the creamiest sauce, use all parmigiano, not pecorino romano.
  • Freshly ground pepper: grind your own pepper instead of buying pre-ground. Freshly ground pepper is more flavorful and has more texture.
  • Wait to reserve pasta water: don’t reserve the pasta water too early or else it will cool down and won’t be as starchy as we’d like.
  • Vigorously toss: vigorously toss the pasta in the peppery water and cheese cream over medium heat. This helps emulsify the sauce and ensures even coating of the pasta.
  • Using a large pot: to mix the pasta with the cheese mixture, use a large pot not a pan. You can really whirl the pasta around this way, not worrying about the pasta spilling over. Vigorous mixing is key.
  • Timing matters: follow the steps precisely for best results!
  • Control salt levels: too much or too little salt can interfere with the creaminess of the sauce and cause the sauce to taste “flat” or too salty.
  • Serve immediately: cacio e pepe is best enjoyed right after preparation when the sauce is creamy and the pasta is al dente. Once the pasta cools, the sauce will start to coagulate.

What to Serve With My Cacio e Pepe Recipe

  • Cacio e pepe is typically served as a “primo piatto” or first course. But it can be served as the main dish or with sides. Here are some serving suggestions!
  • Serve antipasti before cacio e pepe, like Marinated Olives, cured meats, or bruschetta.
  • Grill or roast vegetables as a side dish, like Roasted Green Beans. Or prep a simple Italian Salad as a bright, fresh side or appetizer.
  • Serve cacio e pepe traditionally as a “primo piatto” or first course before a fish or meat dish like Italian Meatballs.
  • Finish the meal with a light dessert like Olive Oil Cake, tiramisu, or fresh fruit with Whipped Cream to cleanse the palate.

    Reheating and Storage Tips

    I highly recommend serving cacio e pepe right away. Besides, they’ll likely be no leftovers! Reheating cacio e pepe can be a bit tricky because once the pasta cools, the sauce thickens and becomes clumpy. If you need to reheat it, place cacio e pepe in a pan over low heat. Add a splash of reserved pasta water or milk to help loosen the sauce as it warms. Gently stir and toss the pasta until warm. Add a bit of freshly grated cheese to revive the flavors and creaminess.

    More Pasta Recipes You’ll Love!

    Best Cacio e Pepe Recipe

    With just 4 ingredients and 30 minutes, I have the secret trick to making the creamiest cacio e pepe – one of the four classic Roman pastas you shouldn't miss!
    5 from 10 votes
    Prep Time: 15 minutes
    Cook Time: 15 minutes
    Total Time: 30 minutes
    Course: Appetizer, Main Course
    Cuisine: Italian
    Keyword: fall, spring, winter
    Servings: 4 servings
    Calories: 619kcal
    Author: Tastefully Grace

    Equipment

    • Large pot

    Ingredients

    • 1 pound orecchiette pasta
    • 2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano fresh, fine-grated
    • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper plus more to garnish
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • 4 quarts water

    Instructions

    • Prepare all ingredients ahead of time!
    • Bring 4 quarts of water (not more) to a boil. Add the salt. Add pasta and cook for about 30 seconds less than the boil time for al dente.
    • With 3 minutes left of the pasta cooking time, in a separate large pot (not pan), add the black pepper. Toast the pepper in the dry pot for 2-3 minutes over medium heat until fragrant.
    • Reserve 1 ½ cups of the pasta water right before the pasta is done cooking.
    • Add 1 cup of the pasta water to the pot with the pepper.
    • Add drained pasta. Vigorously mix pasta into the peppery water for 1 minute over medium heat.
    • In a bowl, combine cheese and ½ cup pasta water until it’s as smooth as possible, to create a cheese “cream”.
    • Add half of the cheese cream to the pasta. Vigorously mix until combined over medium heat.
    • Add the rest of the cheese cream to the pasta over medium heat. Vigorously mix again, until it is creamy and uniform. You really want to put some muscle into it!
    • Serve right away, garnished with more black pepper and cheese.

    Video

    Notes

    • I highly recommend using orecchiette instead of the classic, spaghetti. Whirling around the orecchiette in a big pot with the cheese and pasta water mixture creates this deliciously creamy sauce. I’ve tried with spaghetti and you can’t mix it as vigorously. Also, the delicious sauce gets “stuck” in those little orecchiette ears! Yum!
    • I highly recommend using parmigiano-reggiano only, which creates a creamier sauce than pecorino. Pecorino creates a stickier sauce.
    • You’ll need to reserve 1 ½ cups pasta water.
    • Don’t add more salt to the pasta water. Too much salt can impact the creaminess of the sauce. Remember the cheeses added saltiness too!
    • Use a large pot, not a pan, so you can really whirl around the pasta. Vigorous stirring is the only way to create the creamy sauce.
    • Serve right away. Cacio e pepe is best enjoyed right after it’s prepared when the sauce is creamy and the pasta is al dente. Once the pasta cools, the sauce will start to coagulate.

    Nutrition

    Serving: 1serving | Calories: 619kcal | Carbohydrates: 87g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 34mg | Sodium: 1001mg | Potassium: 309mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 395IU | Calcium: 648mg | Iron: 2mg
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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