Cacio e Pepe

If you are looking for a basic pasta side dish for your meal, look no further than this simple cacio e pepe recipe.

Nothing is more simple than this easy pasta dish, yet it is totally delicious and is the best side dish for any sort of meat!

Don’t let the name of this dish throw you off. “Cacio e Pepe” literally means “cheese and pepper”, which is the essence of this cheesy pasta dish.

Why you will love cacio e pepe

Simplicity… that’s it! This dish is so easy and simple and only has a few ingredients. This is my favorite side dish to eat with Chicken Piccata!

You could also make a meal of it and serve it with this delish Burrata Bruschetta, or it even compliments a delicious steak!

Oh and did I mention that your kids will love this recipe?

I know mine do!

Tips

Before we dive into the recipe for cacio e pepe, I do want to mention something. Because of the nature of parmesan cheese, it tends to stick to pots, pans and forks when it melts.

I HIGHLY recommend using a good non-stick skillet for this recipe, unless you don’t mind scrubbing your pan for a long time.

I learned my lesson the first time I made this. When I used a stainless steel skillet, the parmesan stuck to the bottom and sides in a way that made me scrub for about 15 minutes before I got it clean! Learn from my mistakes and use a non-stick!

Ingredients

Remember when I said that the ingredients for cacio e pepe were really simple?

Well they are, and there are only 4 ingredients (plus some salt)! Before I list off the ingredients, I do want to talk about the quality of ingredients here.

When it comes to making simple dishes that have few ingredients, it’s very important that those ingredients are of the highest quality.

Two very key ingredients in this recipe, that you should not cut corners on, are black peppercorns and real parmesan cheese. Let’s talk about this for a moment.

The alternative to grinding your own whole black peppercorns would be to use cheap ground black pepper from the store. I’m telling you right now that if you use the pre-ground pepper from the store, your dish is going to taste so much different (and poorer in quality).

What you need to do (and please follow my advice) is to take whole black peppercorns, and either grind them in a peppermill, or put them in a plastic back and pound them a few times with a meat mallet or a rolling pin.

This is what I do and it’s rather therapeutic. Your pepper will be more coarse than you might be used to, but you are going to taste a big difference!

The same goes for parmesan cheese. This really is the main ingredient in your pasta so it’s beneficial to avoid cutting corners.

Don’t buy the cheap, pre-grated parmesan (which is full of anti-caking additives btw), but rather opt for the higher quality block or wedge of parmesan that you have to grate yourself.

Is it more work?

A little bit, yes. It is worth it?

YES!

And you can come back and tell me later how glad you were that you followed my advice.

Ok so onto the ingredients:

  • Tonnarelli pasta (or spaghetti is fine)
  • Real Parmesan cheese (pecorino romano is also lovey, or a mixture of them both)
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • Butter
  • Salt

How to make Cacio e Pepe

In a large pot bring salted water to a boil and prepare the pasta according to the directions until you get the “al dente” texture. Make sure not to overcook your pasta since it will continue to cook a bit in the saucepan with the other ingredients.

While your pasta is boiling, crush or grind your black peppercorns and grate your Parmesan Reggiano. As I stated before, you should definitely start out with whole peppercorns and a block of cheese for this recipe so that you don’t skimp on quality and taste!

After your pepper is ground, put it in a dry pan (use a non-stick skillet) over medium heat and toast it for a minute or 2 until it becomes fragrant. Remove it from the heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta thoroughly. Add the drained pasta to the non-stick skillet with the toasted pepper.

Turn the stove to low-medium heat and add the butter, grated cheese, and reserved cooking liquid, ¼ cup at a time. You may end up only using about 2/3 cup of the pasta water.

Stir it constantly until the butter melts and the ingredients are incorporated.

Serve immediately and garnish with more grated cheese if you desire.

Variations

Using Pecorino Romano cheese is the preferred way of many to make this recipe. It really depends on what you like. Other than the type of cheese, there are not many other ways to vary this recipe. It is about as basic as it gets!

Serving Suggestions

Cacio e pepe is best served immediately after it is prepared as a side dish to your favorite meat, or by itself with a delicious salad. I’ll guiltily admit that this is a great bedtime snack if you are a nighttime snacker like me.

Equipment

  • Peppermill
  • Large non-stick skillet
  • Cheese grater

FAQ’s

What kind of pasta should I use for cacio e pepe?

Traditionally speaking, tonnarelli pasta is used for cacio e pepe. Don’t let that hinder you making this recipe though. Standard spaghetti is just fine to use, or anything even slightly thicker than spaghetti noodles.

Why is my cacio e pepe not creamy?

The main culprit for clumpy cacio e pepe is not adding enough of the reserved cooking liquid. If it is not creamy in your skillet, add a little more of the liquid reserve and stir it together. One other reason may be that it cooled down when it was plated. Once this pasta cools, it is not as creamy. So serve it on a warm plate if you want it to retain its texture.

Cacio e Pepe

Print Recipe
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • ½ lb tonnarelli pasta or spaghetti
  • 1 ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese or pecorino romano
  • 1 ½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2/3 cup reserved pasta water salted

Instructions

  • In a large pot, generously salt the water and bring it to a boil. Prepare the pasta according to the package directions.
  • While the pasta is boiling, crush the peppercorns and grate the cheese.
  • Place the crushed pepper into a dry large non-stick skillet and toast the pepper on medium heat for 1-2 minutes until it becomes fragrant. Remove from heat.
  • As soon as the pasta reaches al dente texture, reserve about 1 cup of the cooking liquid and drain the rest of the pasta.
  • Add the drained pasta to the non-stick skillet with the pepper. Add the butter, grated cheese and cooking liquid, ¼ cup at a time. You might not add the whole cup of liquid, it tends to be just right if you use 2/3 cup of water.
  • Turn it into low-medium heat and toss it around until the butter is melted and the ingredients are incorporated.
  • Serve on warm plates and garnish with more grated cheese.