Cacio e Pepe is a classic Italian pasta dish that’s both easy and delicious!
I like comfort food. That’s no surprise, right? I love pulling out the grill on warm summer evenings, and I love curling up with a bowl of soup on cold winter nights. However, one of my all-time favorite comfort foods is mac and cheese. We make a huge batch of mac and cheese every year around Thanksgiving, and then we eat the leftovers for a week afterwards…and I seriously think I like the mac and cheese leftovers more than the turkey!
I also love Italian food. I didn’t really grow up eating much Italian food, but Italian flavors quickly became my go-to choice as I was learning how to cook for myself after college. So today’s Cacio e Pepe recipe is an intersection of two of my favorites: mac and cheese and Italian.
As I was standing at the stove making this Cacio e Pepe, I realized that it’s basically just an Italian version of mac and cheese. It’s pasta coated with cheese. Granted, the cheese isn’t cheddar, smoked gouda or other fancy cheeses than sometimes show up in mac and cheese. Nope, Cacio e Pepe uses 2 Italian classics: Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) and Pecorino Romano (Pecorino). But at it’s core, Cacio e Pepe is just an Italian version of one of my all-time favorite comfort foods!
About a month ago, I was cutting through the grocery section of a store that I don’t go to very often. And my eye just happened to land on a box of bucatini pasta. Have you ever come across bucatini? It’s a long pasta like spaghetti, but it’s traditionally a bit thicker. Bucatini also has a hole down the center of the pasta. This type of pasta is common in central Italy, and it’s ideally served with buttery, cheesy sauces. That makes it perfect for Cacio e Pepe! Granted, Cacio e Pepe doesn’t actually include butter, but it’s certainly creamy enough thanks to the grated Parmesan and Pecorino. (Don’t worry. If you can’t find bucatini, then spaghetti or linguine would totally work here, too!)
According to food lore, Cacio e Pepe actually hails all the way back to Roman times. There aren’t many dishes that have survived the test of time all the way from the Romans. After all, the Romans loved garum, a fermented fish sauce. Let that sink in. Fermented fish sauce. Yeah, no thanks. Not only has Cacio e Pepe stood the test of time, but it’s actually become quite trendy lately! As Cacio e Pepe only requires a few basic ingredients, it was actually a favorite of Roman shepherds. Dried pasta, cheese and peppercorns. (That’s it. These ingredients were easy to carry when shepherds went into the fields.)
Cacio e Pepe (literally translated from Italian as “Cheese and Pepper”) epitomizes the simplicity of Italian cooking. This recipe only has 4 ingredients, 5 if you consider that I used 2 types of cheese. (Cacio e Pepe is traditionally made with only Pecorino, but I like mixing in a bit of Parmesan as well.)
As we were curled up on the couch with our bowls of pasta and cheese, Laura pointed out that Cacio e Pepe bears strong similarities to another one of my Italian favorites: Spaghetti Carbonara. Neither recipe uses cream, but both are creamy and delicious…which is the very definition of tasty comfort food in my book! (As with most pasta dishes, it’s very important to save a bit of the pasta cooking water, though. It’s the secret weapon when making creamy pasta sauces.) Enjoy, friends!