Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe is a classic Italian pasta dish that’s both easy and delicious!

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! 

Cacio e Pepe is a classic Italian pasta dish that's both easy and delicious!  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, this recipe is just an Italian version of one of my all-time favorite comfort foods!

Cacio e Pepe is a classic Italian pasta dish that's both easy and delicious!  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!)

Cacio e Pepe is a classic Italian pasta dish that's both easy and delicious!  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 this recipe 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 is a classic Italian pasta dish that's both easy and delicious!  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.  (This dish 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!

Cacio e Pepe is a classic Italian pasta dish that's both easy and delicious!  

Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe is a classic Italian pasta dish that's both easy and delicious!
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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 768kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 16-oz. box bucatini or linguine pasta
  • 4 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • cups Pecorino Romano cheese finely grated
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese finely grated
  • {optional} additional pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese for garnishing

Instructions

  • Using a large pot, cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the water used to cook the pasta.
  • Meanwhile, place the peppercorns in a small resealable bag and crush with a flat object like a mallet or rolling pin.
  • Using a large skillet, add the olive oil and place over medium heat. Once hot, add crushed peppercorns and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Transfer cooked pasta into the skillet along with 2-3 Tbsp of pasta water; toss until well combined.
  • Combine the cheeses together in a small bowl. Add the cheeses to the skillet with the pasta ½ cup at a time, tossing after each addition until fully melted. (Tip: Continue adding 1-2 Tbsp of pasta water with each addition of cheese, as needed to create a creamy sauce. The sauce should be creamy enough to stick to the pasta without being too watery.)
  • Divide the pasta onto plates and {optional} garnish with additional pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese before serving.

Cacio e Pepe is a classic Italian pasta dish that's both easy and delicious!  

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26 Comments

  1. Bucatini is so fun ! Love how hearty it is! I love comfort food and Italian food and basically alllll the food too, lo (which is one of the reasons I have to regularly work out 😉 ). You can never go wrong with pasta, if you ask me, especially one that comes together so quickly and involves cheese. This would be delicious for a meatless Monday dinner tonight 🙂

    1. I totally agree with you, Dawn…I love finding unique pastas in the store. Call me a nerd like that, but our pantry is stocked with all sorts of different pastas.

      Oh, and I hear ya about working out. I was on the bike early this morning thinking, “man, this is really not fun.” But then the next thought was, “I do this so I can eat yummy food later.” 🙂 Thanks so much, my friend!

    1. Yes! It’s amazing how simple cacio e pepe is…and it’s also amazing how delicious it is, too. That’s one of the things I love about Italian food. It’s usually pretty simple and let’s the quality of the ingredients shine through. Look for bucatini next time you’re in the store! (If you can’t find it, then a thick spaghetti would work just as well, too.) Thanks, Kathy!

      1. Lad, since it is basically an emulsion of cheese and pasta water, Gouda would wokr as well, right?

        1. Hmmm, that I don’t know! I would try a mixture of Gouda and Pecorino. It seems like it would work! Let me know if you try it out?

  2. I could happily live in modern Italy but if they tried to feed me fermented fish sauce, I wouldn’t have survived long in Roman times. I’d gladly make a meal out of cacio e pepe just about every day, though. Cheesy carbs are my FAVORITE!

    1. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have lasted long back in the Roman times. I mean the thought of tossing a bunch of fish in a jar and letting ’em ferment is just pretty ick. And I’ve even seen recipes for this floating around today! Can you imagine the smell!? I’ll stick with my pasta and cheese instead. 🙂

  3. David – I love love love Cacio e Pepe. It’s always a great example of how the simplest of food is often the best! Thanks for the recipe!

    1. I totally agree with you, Laura! Cacio e Pepe really is a perfect example of most Italian dishes. It’s simple, easy and let’s the quality of the ingredients shine through. Cheers, my friend! 🙂

    1. Italian is one of my favorite comfort foods, too, Nicole! And, yes, I’m pretty sure I could eat Italian every single day and not get tired of it. It’s just so good! 🙂

  4. Lynne and I love our Italian food too David. And this is a perfect, simple example of how easy it is to make delicious comforting Italian food. I was especially interested to read about that particular form of pasta, bucatini. I actually went as far a googling ” how is bucatini made” and I see it’s fed through a machine that forces it through a perforated disk. I had thought I’d be able to make this on my Kitchen Air pasta maker somehow. But now I think I’ll just stick to seeing if I can get it in a store. Although I’ve plenty of linguine available in the cupboard so I’m sorted either way for making this. Love the creamy combination of cheeses here!

    1. You’re totally right, Neil. Cacio e Pepe is a perfect example of how easy Italian food is to make. I mean there’s only 4 ingredients…which is why the quality of the ingredients plays such a huge role! So I must admit that I’ve never googled how bucatini is made. Interesting! That would’ve been really cool to make at home, but ah well. At the same time, though, a thick spaghetti or linguine would totally still work for Cacio e Pepe. I say you should make it with homemade pasta…yum!!

  5. It’s interesting how one term may mean different things for people. I’ve always thought than mac&cheese is particularly a baked kind of pasta, and I was surprised when I realized mac&cheese means any kind of pasta with cheese for most people. Anyway, baked or not, pasta and cheese are the best friends. I do love this Italian classic. You know my passion for some original pasta ideas (Sometimes way too original), but deep down I understand there’s nothing better than those simple yet hearty combinations!

    1. I agree, Ben! I guess recipes often come with preconceived notions based on where you live or where you grew up. For me, mac and cheese typically means pasta covered in creamy cheese sauce. These simple ideas (like pasta + cheese) really are delicious, and they’re perfect for weeknight cooking, too!

    1. Bucatini pasta is one of the more unusual types for sure, but I was still able to find some in a store here. Of course, thick spaghetti would work just as well! This dish really is simple, but it’s packed with loads of flavor. Thanks, Dawn!

  6. Lil Shashi has this on the menu for dinner tonight! Cacio e Pepe is a favorite of hers – when we went to Italy last year, when she ordered a d bowl of Cacio e Pepe, she wouldn’t speak till she had enjoyed every last morsel of it – the other week she tried another Cacio e Pepe recipe that called for butter and it looked like the pasta was swimming in fat (to me) but this one with olive oil looks so darn good – just like the ones she used to order in Italy! Thanks David!

    1. Awesome! I want to come to your house for dinner tonight, Shashi! Is Lil Shashi cooking for us? 🙂 Cacio e Pepe is one of my favorites, too, and honestly it shouldn’t have any butter. The flavor comes from olive oil and cheese alone…so use the good stuff! And save me a plate? Thanks, Shashi!

  7. I love Italian food too and you’ve hit on a couple of my favorite things: Cacio e Pepe and bucatini!! Simple and perfect – definitely my kind of comfort food!

    1. You and I are two peas in a pod, Marissa! Italian food + comfort food is pretty much my ideal kind of meal, and this Cacio e Pepe checks both off the list. It’s easy and delicious…what more do you need? Maybe a glass of Italian wine! 🙂 Hope you have a great weekend, my friend!

  8. A favorite in our house, too, David. Bucatini is a great choice, and I think you’d really like it with tonnarelli (aka spaghetti alla chitarra) as well.

    1. I love discovering and playing with new pasta shapes! I’m not familiar with tonnarelli (yet), but I’m definitely going to put that on the radar in hopes that I stumble across it in the store. Thanks, Frank!

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