Cacio e Pepe is pasta dish with cheese and black pepper. I got inspired to make this when I was interviewing the chef at Moto Cucina Enoteca and they were making a Cacio e Pepe inspired pizza.
This is such a simple dish but don’t let the minimal ingredients fool you. It’s not as simple of a dish as it sounds. The black pepper and cheese combination comes together with a good chewy pasta to create a fantastic bite.
Pecorino Romano is sharp, salty, tangy sheep’s cheese, different from Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan), which is a cow’s milk cheese, milder, nuttier. Pecorino Romano’s saltiness balances perfectly against a good helping of freshly ground peppercorns.
Cacio e Pepe originates from Rome and would be considered a rustic, comfort food, and you will quite agree upon the first bite. The good news is that it only takes about 12 minutes to make from start to finish. It can be a starter for a dinner party, a side dish, or your quick and delicious lunch or dinner. If you’re daring, top it with a poached egg and have it for breakfast.
You can use regular spaghetti, but I really enjoy this dish with bucatini. They are hollowed out with a hole running down the middle which picks whatever sauce is used, adding more flavor to the bite.
You have to use the right cheese fresh peppercorns. The Pecorino will do the work for you as far as making this taste outstandingly, authentically Italian. It balances against really good, freshly ground black pepper.
After the pasta is almost cooked, it is finished off in the frying pan with butter, and black pepper. Starchy pasta water is added in to create Cacio e Pepe’s creaminess.
Now here is where it’s gets complicated. There are supposed to only be three ingredients in Cacio e Pepe, plus the pasta water. This dish is counter intuitive. The creaminess comes from the starchy pasta water mixing with the cheese. Some Italians are very snooty when they see us Americans adding butter or olive oil to the dish. Don’t take that too seriously. I’ve seen recipes that use butter, olive oil or both, but you won’t need to use a lot.
If you are unfamiliar with thick spaghetti that is hollowed out, let me encourage you to play around with it. It bites right, and until you bite into it, you will have no idea what I’m saying. I can get seriously passionate about this kind of pasta, as the texture is so unique, and while it may be an awkward pasta to eat, it’s the star of this dish. The pepper and cheese should be viewed as supporting roles. You can use regular spaghetti, but use the best imported pasta you can find because in a minimalist dish, like Cacio e Pepe, the ingredients make the difference.
- ¾ bucatini percateli or spaghetti
- salt for pasta water
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (possibly more)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- up to ½ cup pasta water
- ¾ freshly grated pecorino romano
- Cook pasta according to directions minus two minutes. Make sure to put a good amount of salt into the boiling water.
- Toast black pepper in dry frying pan to open up the oils.
- Add olive oil and butter.
- Add in ¼ cup pasta water.
- Add in cooked, drained pasta,
- Toss with Pecorino Romano adding a little at a time.Toss and swirl in the pan.
- Garnish with some more freshly ground black pepper and more cheese
If you don't have a pepper mill, crush peppercorns in a plastic bag with a mallet. Use freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated Pecorino Romano. You can use any kind of spaghetti you prefer, but it should be high quality.
I’m such a fan of pasta without tomato sauce. Here are a few great recipes that are fast and easy to make.