A delicious traditional Roman Pasta dish made with 4 ingredients. This Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe recipe is fast and easy to prepare. Perfect for a quick weekday meal or a friendly get together.
But Cacio e Pepe which means “cheese and pepper” in Italian, it is considered one of the best if not the best by a lot of people, including Anthony Bourdain. In an authentic recipe there is no salted or unsalted butter or olive oil, and of course just certain types of grated cheese.
A while back our good friend and great cook made us an authentic Cacio e Pepe. When I mentioned that a lot of recipes included butter, he looked at me like I had just gave him the worst insult.
Butter is good, but in sweets or in a simple pasta, such as butter and parmesan when you are desperate for something quick and easy (and it’s really good too)!
But not, I repeat, not in this recipe and certainly not in Carbonara! And it’s not as if Italians don’t like to change things up a bit, they do. But it has to be the correct ingredients.
- Spaghetti – high quality pasta
- Black Pepper – freshly ground
- Pecorino Romano Cheese – good quality freshly grated
- Parmesan Cheese – good quality, freshly grated
Because there are few ingredients in this recipe, it’s always best to reach for the best quality ingredients.
The amount of pepper really depends on how strong you can handle it. I have seen some people add (our friend included) up to two tablespoons of freshly ground black peppercorns but I found 3/4 tablespoons for 3 servings, perfect for my family.
I personally could handle more. So I will leave it up to you.
How to make Cacio e Pepe
Boil the water in a large pot, add the salt and the spaghetti. Cook the pasta approximately two minutes less than the package instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, ground the pepper corns until you have the desired amount of pepper.
About 3 minutes before the time is up (2 minutes less then directed) in a large skillet add the freshly ground pepper and heat on high for about 30 seconds or until you can smell the pepper, add about half a cup of hot pasta water (you need the starchy pasta water which helps to prevent clump).
Cook on high, stirring constantly for about 30-45 seconds, it will be almost melted but some water will remain. Remove from the heat.
In a small bowl add the pecorino and a little parmesan, combine, add half a cup (or a little more if needed) of hot pasta water and stir to make a creamy sauce.
By this time your pasta is ready (a little less than al dente). Place the skillet with the pepper sauce back on to medium-high heat, add the spaghetti and the pecorino cream sauce, quickly toss and stir gently to combine. Add a little pasta water if needed and continue to combine.
When the spaghetti is cooked (about a minute) and the creamy sauce has thickened slightly, the Cacio e Pepe is ready. Divide into 2-3 plates, top with a sprinkle of black pepper and extra pecorino cheese.
Why add Pasta water?
Adding pasta water is done for a few reasons, such as it makes the pasta and the sauce mix well, the starch contained in the cooking water creates a delicious cream that combines the pasta and sauce together which will give the dish a pleasant taste as well as a very appetizing one.
What is the best Pasta for Cacio e Pepe?
You should definitely use a good quality long pasta, spaghetti is the pasta of choice for this recipe, although I have seen it served with bucatini. A thicker spaghetti is best. In other words not angel hair pasta.
Tips for making the best Cacio e Pepe
- You must use fresh pepper, so grinding is must.
- Boil the water in a large pot, add the salt and the spaghetti.
- Cook the pasta about two minutes less than the package directions.
- Use a good quality pecorino and parmigiana
What is authentic Parmesan?
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is authentic or DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta which means Protected Designation of Origin), and Parmesan cheese is just an imitation of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Reggiano is always made in Italy, while Parmesan can be made anywhere, there are no restrictions on using the name Parmesan. And don’t forget a less expensive but also a DOP choice is Parmigiano Grana Padano.
Why grate your own Parmesan Cheese?
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A couple of reasons it’s better to grate your own. It’s cheaper and it tastes so much better. Packaged cheese tends to have a coating to keep the cheese from sticking together. Not a good thing.
Freshly ground parmesan cheese can be kept in a plastic bag or airtight container and stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. You can also store it in the freezer for up to 18 months.
Pecorino or Parmigiana?
Good question, if you ask most Italians they will say Pecorino and only Pecorino. Although it is actually recommended to use 3/4 Pecorino and 1/4 Parmigiana.
Make sure you use a good quality Pecorino Romano cheese. Since there are only a few ingredients you will want the best.
Because when adding the reserved pasta water if the pecorino is too fresh it will just become a hard block, adding a little parmesan will prevent this from happening.
Can it be made ahead of time?
This pasta dish comes together so quickly, no need to get anything ready before hand, everything has to come together quickly one right after the other. 15 minutes (at the most) and dinner is served.
The only thing I did ahead of time was when I added the spaghetti to the pot of water that was when I ground the pepper.
How to store it
This pasta should be eaten as soon as it is prepared, but if you do have some leftover, place it in an airtight container and refrigerate. It will keep for 1-2 days in the fridge.
So if you are looking or a pasta dish with a little kick, then I hope you enjoy this Authentic Cacio e Pepe. Buon Appetito!
More Pasta recipes
Authentic Cacio e Pepe
- 3 cups cooked spaghetti
- 3/4-1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 cups freshly grated pecorino cheese
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese*
*If you prefer you can use just pecorino cheese.
- Boil the water in a large pot, add the salt and the spaghetti. Cook the pasta about two minutes less than the package directions.
- While pasta is cooking, ground the pepper corns until you have the desired amount of pepper.
- About 3 minutes before the time is up (2 minutes less then directed) in a large skillet pan add the freshly ground pepper and heat on high for about 30 seconds or until you can smell the pepper, then add about ⅓-½ cup of hot pasta water (you need the starchy pasta water which helps prevent clumping). Cook on high, stirring constantly for about 30-45 seconds, it will be almost melted but some water will remain.
- In a small bowl add the pecorino (and a little parmesan) and combine, add ⅓-½ cup (or a little more if needed) of hot pasta water and stir to make a creamy sauce.
- By this time your pasta is ready (a little less than al dente). Turn the heat back on the pepper on medium / high, add the spaghetti and the pecorino cream sauce, quickly toss and stir gently to combine. Add a little pasta water if needed and continue to combine. When the spaghetti is cooked (about a minute) and the creamy sauce has thickened slightly, the Cacio e Pepe is ready. Divide into 2-3 plates, top with a sprinkle of black pepper and pecorino cheese. Enjoy!
Updated from August 10, 2019.