This comforting pasta dish requires only a handful of ingredients and a few minutes, yet is SO flavorful and impressive. Enjoy as either a main or side dish!
Cacio e Pepe is a classic meal that I ate many times when I studied abroad in Rome during college. Until now, however, I never thought it make it myself. Now, I’m kicking myself for waiting so long! This simple pasta dish (the name translates to “cheese and pepper”) requires only a handful of ingredients, features the most delicious creamy sauce, and is just so, so easy to whip up in a short amount of time. Dare I say…Cacio e Pepe has been life-changing in our home. 🙂
Barry, who is a total meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, is obsessed with this meal, guys. So much so, that he doesn’t even mind eating it as his full meal. Yes, my meat-loving husband will happily eat a…gasp!…meat-free dish for dinner, and be totally satisfied. That’s how good this is!
Now, don’t get me wrong…Barry also loves this pasta as a side dish (it is delicious with steak, grilled chicken…you name it!) But, it’s nice to have a meal option up my sleeve that satisfies both of us as-is, and requires minimal effort. Aren’t those the best kind of meals, especially on those busy nights?!
I will admit that my recipe is not totally classic, as I use butter (you could substitute olive oil instead) to add extra creaminess and body to the sauce. I find this necessary because I also cheat and often use pre-grated Pecorino for this dish. Purists would 100% scoff at this, however, we don’t always keep a fresh block of Pecorino on hand, and sometimes a craving for this dish still strikes. 🙂 If you have fresh Pecorino on hand, absolutely do use it, as fresh is always best. However, I’ve found that this dish is extremely forgiving, so don’t be afraid to use the pre-grated stuff if you have to. I promise, it’ll still be smooth and delicious!
CACIO E PEPE INGREDIENTS
You only need a handful of simple ingredients for this dish:
- Pasta: any long pasta is ideal for this dish. We love Bucatini (the hollow middle allows even more of the delicious sauce to get into every bite!) but also regularly use Pappardelle, Linguine, or Spaghetti.
- Pecorino Romano cheese: freshly grated is best, however, we’ve found that pre-grated works well also. Shh, we won’t tell!
- Ground black pepper: freshly cracked is ideal (especially if you’re using pre-grated cheese) and we prefer a coarse grind. We haven’t tested this with pre-grated black pepper – if you try it, let us know how it turns out!
- Butter: you could also substitute olive oil. We find that butter gives the most delicious creaminess to the sauce (and let’s be honest, more butter is always better!)
- Pasta water: never underestimate the power of starchy pasta water when making a sauce. Be sure to reserve some of it while the pasta is cooking, as it will allow our sauce to come together.
HOW TO MAKE CACIO E PEPE
- Cook your pasta: Bring some heavily salted water to a boil, then add the pasta.
- Start the sauce: toast the black pepper in a sauté pan, then add the butter and melt. Whisk in some pasta water, and remove pan from heat.
- Add the cheese: add the Pecorino to the butter and pepper mixture, and whisk until fully combined.
- Drain and add pasta: drain the pasta then add about half of it to the cheese mixture, tossing until fully combined. Add the rest of the pasta and toss.
- Extras: top with extra freshly-ground black pepper and Pecorino. Dish it up, and serve warm!
NOTES & VARIATIONS
- Cacio e Pepe as a side dish: this dish is absolutely delicious as a stand-alone meal, but feel free to eat it as a side dish (as we sometimes do) with steak or grilled chicken.
- Protein additions: crumbled bacon, diced leftover grilled chicken breasts, or sliced steak would all be yummy additions to this dish.
- Vegetable additions: sautéed mushrooms, spinach, or grilled/roasted veggies such zucchini, squash, or broccoli would all bulk up this dish nicely.
- Flavored pastas: this is another variation that’s totally not classic, but we love using flavored pastas for this dish. Our favorites are from Trader Joe’s (you already know about our Trader Joe’s obsession 🙂 ). Try making this dish with the Lemon Pepper Pappardelle or the Spinach and Chive Linguine for a fun and flavorful variation. (Note: these are links to the pastas on Amazon, but if you have a Trader Joe’s near you, definitely buy them there, as they’re cheaper when purchased in the store!)
- Additions: to change up the dish, a few cloves of diced garlic sautéed with the butter and black pepper would be great, as well as a pinch or two of red pepper flakes for an extra kick. Fresh herbs, such as parsley or basil, would also be a nice topping.
This dish couldn’t be easier, and yet is still totally impressive and extremely flavorful. Enjoy!
CACIO E PEPE
- 8 ounces long pasta (such as Pappardelle, Bucatini, Linguine, or Spaghetti)
- 1.5 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1.5-2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper (To taste. We use 2 teaspoons of coarse ground black pepper, but would recommend 1.5 teaspoons unless you like it ultra peppery.)
- 3 Tablespoons butter (I usually use salted. If using unsalted butter, be sure to season the final dish with salt, to taste).
- 1.5 cups pasta water (reserved from the pot your cook your pasta in)
- Cook your pasta in a pot of boiling, heavily-salted water. Note: Use less water than you’d normally use to cook the pasta in, as you want the water to get nice and starchy.
- Add the black pepper to a large sauté pan over medium heat. Toast until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Add the butter, and stir until melted and combined with the pepper. Add about 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water, whisk till combined, and remove the pan from the heat.
- Whisk the cheese into the butter mixture until fully combined.
- When your pasta is cooked, drain it, and save 1 cup more of the pasta water.
- Add about half of your pasta to the cheese mixture, mixing well to ensure that the pasta gets evenly coated. Add the rest of the pasta, along with some of the reserved pasta water (if needed) to make it saucy enough for your liking.
- Top with more freshly cracked black pepper and pecorino, and serve warm.
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