Cacio e Pepe is an easy, fast, and flavorful pasta recipe that’s essentially a grown up version of mac and cheese. The name translates to “cheese and pepper,” and it’s one of those simple recipes that packs an amazing punch with only 5 ingredients. If you’re looking for a simple, classic cacio e pepe recipe, look no further! Also, I’ve teamed up with Williams Sonoma to prepare this amazing pasta recipe using some of their fabulous cookware.
I still remember the first time I tried cacio e pepe. It was at The Red Hen in DC, and the dish wasn’t even on their dinner menu. Our waiter was running through the menu, and I asked him what his favorites were (as I always do). He told me the kitchen could make cacio e pepe if I wanted some, and it was his favorite pasta dish at the restaurant.
How could I resist? It was love at first bite. I also knew immediately that I had to create a homemade cacio e pepe recipe. However, I had no idea it would be so easy!
How to Make Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e Pepe only has 5 ingredients, which means that it’s important to make all of them count. Buy good quality blocks of cheese and grate them yourself. Use a pepper grinder as opposed to ground pepper.
If you want to really kick things up to a restaurant quality level, you can use fresh pasta (which is how I enjoyed it at The Red Hen). Some grocery stores now carry fresh pasta, or you can make yourself; check out my homemade linguine recipe.
Pasta water is an essential ingredient in cacio e pepe. Why? The starches in pasta water do so many things: they add flavor, create a glue that binds ingredients together, and help thicken the sauce.
The final step of melting the cheese into the buttery pasta water takes some patience, especially if the cheese is very cold to start. Grating the cheese finely will help speed up the process (I didn’t do this, so do as I say and not as I do).
Just keep stirring the clumps and pressing them into the hot water. They’ll dissolve, I promise.
When Williams Sonoma contacted me about reviewing their new Anolon Nouvelle Copper Hard-Anodized 11-Piece Cookware Set, I didn’t hesitate. For starters, I already own an Anolon copper skillet, and it’s what first made me a believer in copper.
Cacio e pepe was the perfect recipe for testing my new cookware. I’d never owned any copper cookware before because, as much as I’d love to, it’s frankly out of my price range. What’s cool about the Analon line is that only the bottom is copper, which makes it much more affordable.
The bottom of the pan is where you get to take advantage of copper’s amazing heat conducting properties. One time I did a side-by-side steak searing test with my Anolon copper skillet next to one of my stainless steel skillets. The less expensive Anolon got the better sear in a faster time.
When I agreed to write the review, I didn’t even realize that these pans also work on induction burners. Since I now use an induction burner for videos, photography and travel cooking demos, that seriously made my day. I’ll be getting a lot of use out of these.
I used two of them to prepare this cacio e pepe recipe – the 8-quart stockpot for cooking the pasta, and the 8-1/2 inch French skillet for finishing the dish.
Looking for More Pasta Recipes?
- 8 ounces dried spaghetti, or similar pasta of your choice
- 1 cup reserved pasta water (see instructions below)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 ounces freshly grated pecorino romano cheese (approximately 1/2 cup, see notes)
- 2 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese (approximately 1/2 cup, see notes)
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked or ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then cook the spaghetti for 2-3 minutes less than the time stated on the package instructions. You want the pasta to be underdone so that it can finish cooking in the sauce. Before draining the pasta, carefully reserve 1 cup of the pasta water in a liquid measuring cup.
- In a large flat-sided skillet or saucepan, heat 3/4 cup of the pasta water with the butter over medium-high heat. Stir periodically to help melt and incorporate the butter.
- Once the mixture reaches a simmer, turn the heat to low. Add the pasta, cheeses, and black pepper, stirring with a spatula to combine. Continue stirring for several minutes, approximately 4-5, until a sauce forms. This will take patience, and the cheese will likely clump at first since the ingredients will cool down the water. You can turn the heat up slightly, but don’t go past medium-low or you risk the cheese turning grainy. If the mixture needs thinning, add the remaining pasta water.
- Divide into two portions. Top with additional black pepper if desired, and serve immediately.
When a recipe has so few ingredients, you want to use the best quality options available. If you live near a market that sells freshly made pasta, that will truly take this to the next level. But more importantly, get good quality blocks of cheese, and grate it yourself. If you can find Parmigiano-Reggiano instead of regular parmesan cheese, that’s the gold standard.
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About the Author
Jennifer graduated from the Culinary Arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, and has worked professionally as a line cook, pastry chef, and cooking instructor. Her cookbook, The Gourmet Kitchen, was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster.