Cacio e Pepe is one of our favorite simple pasta dishes on an Italian menu! A little pasta, some cheese, a little butter, and fresh cracked black pepper is all you need for perfection!
This dish uses just simple ingredients to achieve an incredible meal. There is a little bit of technique involved in this one to ensure you get a smooth and creamy sauce.
What is Cacio e Pepe?
This rustic recipe is an Italian favorite for its simple ingredients and creamy consistency. This is a dish I love to order in restaurants and while the ingredients are simple, the flavor is anything but.
In this dish, a simple sauce is made from butter, cheese, and pepper with a little bit of the starchy pasta water.
While many versions use olive oil (and even sometimes a bit of cream), I opt for butter.
PASTA – Spaghetti, capellini or any long pasta is most commonly used!
CHEESE Pecorino romano is the cheese listed in this recipe for its nutty and bright flavor. Parmesan or asiago will melt easily and evenly too. I find I get the best results if I finely shred the cheese on the small side of a cheese grater myself.
Do not use pre-shredded or store grated cheeses in this recipe, they often have additives that affect how they melt.
How to Make Cacio e Pepe
Simply wholesome and unforgettable, Cacio e Pepe makes a perfect meal!
This recipe can be a bit tricky. This recipe has simple ingredients but to be honest, can take a couple of times to get it just right (kind of like making a carbonara).
There are many different methods used for making this recipe from Serious Eats’ two pan method to the addition of cream from Cooks Illustrated. I personally find cooking the butter with starchy water and then adding the pasta and finally mixing in the cheese works best.
If the mixture is too hot, the cheese can seize up.
- Grate Cheese (per recipe below) finely using the smallest side of a box grater. I tried using a food processor to grate it a few times, the results were not as smooth.
- Boil Pasta in just enough water to cover it (you need starchy water for the sauce so don’t add too much). Cook until pasta is al dente. Reserve some of the pasta water. Do not rinse!
- Make Sauce Work quickly, you need the pasta to be hot. While pasta drains, immediately melt butter in the sauce pan and whisk in some of the pasta water until smooth. Toss cooked pasta with the mixture.
- Add Cheese With the heat OFF, add cheese a bit at a time tossing with pasta until melted. Add a bit of hot pasta water if needed. Continue adding cheese and pasta water slowly a bit at a time until you get a creamy consistency.
Tips for a Smooth Sauce
Ensure the cheese is finely shredded by hand (don’t use pre-shredded cheese).
Prepare ALL ingredients before you begin.
Work quickly to use the heat from the pasta (and pasta water) to melt the cheese.
Heat pasta water and butter over low heat until smooth. Remove from the heat and before you begin adding the cheese a very little bit at a time while stirring. If the pasta water is too hot, it can cause the cheese to seize up.
- Cacio e pepe is all about the pasta, so cooking it properly is key. Do NOT overcook.
- This recipe needs really starchy pasta water so cook in just enough water to cover the pasta.
- The sauce clings best to unrinsed pasta. Same goes for the pasta water, some of the pasta starch remains in the water, making it a perfect thickener for cacio e pepe.
- Prep ahead and be ready. Once the pasta is cooked, this dish comes together fast!
- We’ve had the best results in a non-stick pan.
Perfect Pasta Dishes
- Creamy Tomato Pasta Bake – so easy to make
- Chicken Tetrazzini – freezer friendly
- Creamy Mushroom Tagliatelle – a crowd favorite
- Lemon Garlic Shrimp Fettuccine – ready in 20 minutes
- Fusilli with Meat Sauce – a one-pot meal
Did your family love this Cacio e Pepe? Be sure to leave a comment and a rating below!
Cacio e Pepe
- 12 ounces spaghetti or long pasta
- 4 ounces Pecorino Romano plus extra for garnish
- 1 ½ teaspoons black pepper finely ground
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Bring a shallow pot of salted water to a boil. You want enough water to cook the pasta but you want the water to become very starchy so don't overfill the pot. The water should just barely cover the pasta.
- Meanwhile, shred cheese with the fine side of a cheese grater. Add finely ground black pepper.
- Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain well, reserve 1 ½ cups of pasta water (do not rinse pasta). The pasta water should be a bit starchy and a little thick.
- Working quickly, place 3 tablespoons butter in a pan and melt over low heat. Whisk in 1/3 cup of pasta water until smooth. Remove from the heat.
- Add the hot pasta and toss with the butter in the pan. With the heat off add cheese a couple tablespoons at a time while tossing with tongs until melted.
- Continue adding cheese a little at a time tossing until melted and adding pasta water as needed to create a creamy sauce.
- Garnish with additional cheese and parsley if desired. Serve immediately.
- Do not use pre-shredded cheeses.
- Prepare all ingredients before you begin.
- Shred the cheese with the fine side of a cheese grater.
- Use just enough water to cook the pasta, you want it to be very starchy.
- Do not rinse the pasta, you need the starch on the pasta.
- Save some pasta water, you need the starchy water for the sauce.
- Work quickly once the pasta has drained, you need the heat from the pasta to melt the cheese to create the sauce.
- Only add the cheese once removed from the heat so it melts smoothly and evenly.
- You may not need to add all of the cheese or all of the pasta water. Add just enough to get a creamy sauce.
- The pasta will thicken as it stands/cools so don't discard your pasta water in case you want to thin out your sauce.
- We've had the best results in a non-stick pan.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.)