Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe is an Italian pasta dish that translates to cheese and pepper. It’s a long-time standard of Roman cuisine, and one I think everybody should have in their pasta repertoire.

Recently my daughter asked if I’d ever made it, and I never have. As much as I love and respect the simplicity of authentic Italian dishes, this one probably never intrigued me enough because of the lack of “goodies” in it, like a little Prosciutto, or smoked salmon.

But I decided it was about time to make Cacio e Pepe and embrace the perfection that is a traditional pasta dish.

When I started researching the recipe online, it was like opening up an Italian Pandora’s box. There were so many criticisms of recipes, techniques, and so forth. I’ve always found that the Italians are the most passionate about their traditional recipes remaining traditional.

I personally don’t mind variations on the original, but nonetheless I closed the box and decided on the recipe I would use. The important goal of making Cacio e Pepe is a creaminess that is created without using butter or cream.

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Here’s what I did.

First I grated 8 ounces of Pecorino Romano cheese and set aside.

Then I place a large pot full of salted water on the stove over high heat. I chose basic spaghetti, 16 ounces, for my pasta.

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When the water boiled, I added the pasta and timed 9-10 minutes.

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After the pasta was cooked, I poured some of the pasta water in a bowl, drained the pasta, and returned the pasta to the pot. I had a stirring spoon on hand, and immediate added some of the pasta water to the pot, stirring gently.

I then added about 2 teaspoons of coarsely ground pepper and the grated cheese, along with more pasta water as needed. Vigorous stirring was necessary to create a creaminess and incorporate the cheese.

Serve immediately, preferably in warmed pasta bowls.

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I added more coarsely-ground pepper.

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This dish is so much about the pepper!

I can now understand why this simple pasta dish has endured for centuries. I’ve always loved and respected the simplicity of many Italian dishes, but I think this one takes the cake.

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However, as wonderfu as Cacio e Pepe is, tomorrow I’m adding some Prosciutto or smoked salmon.

By Published On: August 13th, 201671 Comments

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

71 Comments

  1. Nadia August 13, 2016 at 8:09 AM - Reply

    Just like my Italian grandmother made it and I am with you in the prosciutto 😃

  2. Dr Dan August 13, 2016 at 9:26 AM - Reply

    Looks good! I like butter in this dish although not traditional

  3. thecompletebook August 13, 2016 at 10:20 AM - Reply

    Perfection in simplicity is my favourite!
    Have a beautiful weekend Mimi.
    :-) Mandy xo

    • chef mimi August 13, 2016 at 8:38 PM - Reply

      With lovely in season ingredients, it’s the best!!!

  4. Tasty Eats Ronit Penso August 13, 2016 at 10:35 AM - Reply

    One my favorite ways of quick pasta. So tasty!
    Though I know it’s not the traditional way, I do prefer to warm the black pepper in a bit of olive oil or butter, then add the pasta.
    And I’m with you re the prosciutto! :)

    • chef mimi August 13, 2016 at 8:37 PM - Reply

      Oooohhhh, what a great idea! Which brings up something I’ve always wondered about – searing steaks coated in pepper. Doesn’t the pepper burn in the high heat? I always add pepper after the searing process. you?

      • Tasty Eats Ronit Penso August 13, 2016 at 10:10 PM

        The cooking time is quite short so the pepper is not likely to burn, but it also helps to let the steaks sit for a few minutes after pressing the pepper on both sides. This way the pepper is a bit moist.

        By the way, lately I prefer to use 4 pepper mix instead of the regular. I highly recommend trying it. :)

      • chef mimi August 14, 2016 at 3:54 PM

        Interesting. My favorite is a 3 pepper mixture – black, green and pink. Although I don’t think the pink peppercorns are really classified at pepper… But good to know about the pepper on the steaks! Thank you!

      • Tasty Eats Ronit Penso August 14, 2016 at 4:39 PM

        You’re welcome. :)

        You’re right, the pink ones are not from the same tree. The mix I use has white pepper as well.

      • chef mimi August 16, 2016 at 11:56 AM

        I use white pepper a lot. In Scotland, Ireland and Wales, salt and white pepper were always on tables in restaurants! I use it a lot.

  5. ruthann1 August 13, 2016 at 11:51 AM - Reply

    I only have a couple of pasta dishes I like to make. One has asparagus and chicken in it with a cream sauce. (It’s on our blog.) But your recipe for Cacio e Pepe looks delicious. I think I’d like a small dish of it with a salad and some grilled chicken. Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe.
    RuthAnn Ridley
    inspiringcuisine.com

    • chef mimi August 13, 2016 at 8:36 PM - Reply

      I think it depends on your tastes. I love spicy food, and lots of flavor. This pasta is definitely subtle, although tasty. I had to make it the traditional way, and it was delicious. But then I added a few things…. My Italian ancestors are probably rolling in their graves!

  6. anotherfoodieblogger August 13, 2016 at 11:53 AM - Reply

    Prosciutto added, for sure! But I like that you stuck to the original traditional version, and what you do next is your choice, right? I’ll have to try this soon, very soon.

    • chef mimi August 13, 2016 at 8:35 PM - Reply

      Well, I had to try it. And I did. And so did my husband. And it’s spectacular. But he had me add pesto and garbanzo beans for a heftier and more flavorful side dish!!! Sshhhhhh!

      • anotherfoodieblogger August 13, 2016 at 9:25 PM

        I’m making it tonight! The water is on to boil as we speak. No prosciutto on hand, but we’re having steak tips with it so that’s ok.

  7. Travel Gourmet August 13, 2016 at 1:18 PM - Reply

    Beautiful in its simplicity :)

    • chef mimi August 13, 2016 at 8:33 PM - Reply

      Thank you! I probably would have never made this dish if my daughter hadn’t mentioned it. Even though I appreciate the simplicity of good Italian dishes. But I was too intrigued not to try it!

  8. StefanGourmet August 13, 2016 at 1:30 PM - Reply

    Remarkably delicious, isn’t it? It took me years before I first made it (or ordered it in a restaurant), because I thought it would be too simple. It isn’t, and it is now one of our favorites. When I make a variation, it is with sautéed or roasted vegetables. Not authentic, but good and more healthy.
    PS it goes without saying that with a dish like this, the quality of the pasta, cheese and black pepper all make a huge difference!
    PS2: from an etymological standpoint, I think it is cool that cheese, usually called formaggio in Italian, is called cacio here (cacio is closer to the germanic cheese/kaas/käse).

    • chef mimi August 13, 2016 at 8:26 PM - Reply

      I thought that was interesting also, because I expected cheese to sound like fromage – cheese in French, which you probably know! I guess there’s no such thing as too simple, especially with Italian cuisine, but I know I never would have ordered it off of a menu. The sautéed vegetables sounds wonderful, as would good sausage…

      • StefanGourmet August 15, 2016 at 2:23 PM

        I haven’t been to Rome since ‘discovering’ cacio e pepe. I’m definitely going to order it next time I’m in Rome just as a benchmark :-)

      • chef mimi August 15, 2016 at 4:26 PM

        Good idea!

  9. David Crichton August 13, 2016 at 3:56 PM - Reply

    I’ve never heard of this Mimi. Although I must have picked something up from it, as i put loads of black pepper on any food that is yellow. Can’t say I’m pastas biggest fan, but even this I’d have trouble not devouring.

    • chef mimi August 13, 2016 at 8:28 PM - Reply

      Very interesting. And I have to remember to use black pepper! White pepper I’m a huge fan of. I’m not a carb addict, or I’d weigh even more than I do – but in its simplicity, this is a fabulous dish. And the pepper is wonderful in it!

  10. Our Growing Paynes August 13, 2016 at 3:59 PM - Reply

    Well done and it looks like something I would love to try. The Italians certainly know how to elevate simplicity in their dishes.

    • chef mimi August 13, 2016 at 8:30 PM - Reply

      Yeah, I know what you mean, although elevate almost sounds forced or faked, even though I know that’s not what you mean. As much as I love many many cuisines from around the world, I do think that the Italians are best at the simplest recipes yet made with only high quality and in season ingredients. I couldn’t be happy with this dish every day, but it is superb!

      • Our Growing Paynes August 14, 2016 at 1:25 PM

        An it’s real food, unlike some of the dishes where they put a dot of sauce and an olive with a sliver of meat and call it an entree!

  11. Debra August 13, 2016 at 6:32 PM - Reply

    I honestly think the simplicity of the dish is what totally appeals to me. I can just taste it in my imagination. I appreciate how you’ve described achieving the creaminess. I can’t wait to make this. I have some fresh pepper that I look forward to adding. :-)

    • chef mimi August 13, 2016 at 8:31 PM - Reply

      I made sure I got the right cheese, and there is a vigorous amount of stirring involved, but it was pretty amazing that there was no cream or butter in the pasta!!! Just simply good and peppery!

  12. cheri August 13, 2016 at 6:57 PM - Reply

    I’ve never prepared this dish either Mimi, but it certainly looks delicious. I think I would like a little prosciutto or salmon too. Take care!

    • chef mimi August 13, 2016 at 8:32 PM - Reply

      Make it, take one of two bites, enjoy the simple flavors, then add all of the other goodies like tomatoes and sausages!!!

  13. Jack & Barbra Donachy August 13, 2016 at 7:52 PM - Reply

    So simple but so tasty!

  14. Gerlinde de Broekert August 13, 2016 at 9:25 PM - Reply

    It is such a simple but delicious dish that I have to try it. Have a great weekend.

  15. chefceaser August 14, 2016 at 10:30 AM - Reply

    Reblogged this on Chef Ceaser.

  16. Cooking For The Time Challenged August 14, 2016 at 12:36 PM - Reply

    I like the flowers too. Are they edible?

  17. Cocoa & Lavender August 14, 2016 at 12:47 PM - Reply

    Funny, Mimi – I love Cacio e Pepe but have never made it, either! And now I will!

    • chef mimi August 14, 2016 at 3:49 PM - Reply

      Isn’t that funny. Well, you can’t know and do everything!

  18. Conor Bofin August 14, 2016 at 2:11 PM - Reply

    Simple, good pasta can be great as you show Mimi. Excellent.

  19. centerforcreativework August 14, 2016 at 5:05 PM - Reply

    I love Cacio e Pepe so much I made if for my Great Books class at the University of Houston. Fantastic approach and pics.

  20. Laura @ Feast Wisely August 15, 2016 at 2:12 AM - Reply

    Such simplicity Chef Mimi – yet I can imagine how delicious this tastes, only a big bowl would suffice 😄

  21. Loretta August 15, 2016 at 6:38 AM - Reply

    It’s amazing how a few special ingredients can jazz up a wonderful dish as this. Love the zinnias that sit in the delicious bowl of pasta.

    • chef mimi August 16, 2016 at 11:51 AM - Reply

      Thanks so much! I thought I needed color, but my Italian ancestors probably don’t approve!

  22. Mary Frances August 15, 2016 at 12:18 PM - Reply

    This is lovely, I can only imagine how much more delicious it would be with a homemade pasta! Love the creaminess :)

    • chef mimi August 16, 2016 at 9:11 AM - Reply

      I honestly don’t know if that’s allowed!!! In fact, honestly, the stirring might be too rough for fresh pasta, unless it’s pretty sturdy. But nonetheless it is a fabulous recipe!

  23. chezlerevefrancais August 16, 2016 at 9:51 AM - Reply

    I definitely agree with you Mimi that we sometimes feel that we need to add something to a dish when sometimes simplest is the tastiest, (and the easiest when we have run low on ingredients!) It looks great ! :)

    • chef mimi August 16, 2016 at 11:50 AM - Reply

      Thank you. I do think the Italians do that best!

  24. The Gourmet Gourmand August 17, 2016 at 11:08 AM - Reply

    It’s settled… this is what I’m making for myself while my husband is out of town. Simple but delicious :)

  25. Paul Palop August 18, 2016 at 1:30 AM - Reply

    yeah! I never gave this dish much thought and then one day I decided to try it. It’s all in the freshly cracked pepper like you said, and the cheese quality. But somehow I remember the pepper contribution more than the cheese’s which seems weird. In any case… I’ve never been a big fan of mac&cheese but ‘m definitely a big fan cacio e pepe.

    • chef mimi August 18, 2016 at 7:24 AM - Reply

      I’m not a Mac and cheese fan either. But then over 30 years ago I made my first pasta from an Italian cookbook that was pasta, Parmesan, butter and cream. Then I was hooked on real pasta dishes. You are right, tho, the pepper is the main flavor; the cheese just melts into a coating for the pasta. It’s fabulous, and I’m not a huge black pepper fan! I have to remind myself to use it. I grab for white pepper a lot!

      • Paul Palop August 18, 2016 at 11:09 AM

        i love all things peppery!

  26. gypsygurl64 August 19, 2016 at 4:27 AM - Reply

    Not to long ago my granddaughters and I decided to make fresh pasta! It was a great idea! We made bow ties and eventually just strings because we got tired. I didn’t want a heavy sauce so I found a recipe Aglio e Olio! It’s basically a sauce with olive oil and garlic. The garlic is sliced and cooked in the olive oil until it’s sizzling. Then you add the cooked pasta and some of the pasta water thereby making a sauce! Best thing we’ve ever eaten!! I added a little basil because I love basil but it was superb!

    • chef mimi August 19, 2016 at 10:06 AM - Reply

      And once again, it proves that the Italians do simple best!!! Very cool that you made fresh pasta with your granddaughters!

  27. ChgoJohn August 20, 2016 at 4:20 PM - Reply

    This is such a great dish, Mimi, and your recipe’s a good one. It’s my “go-to” supper when I just don’t feel like cooking and it sure beats anything that a delivery boy will bring me. :)

  28. camparigirl August 24, 2016 at 7:56 PM - Reply

    Such a simple recipe that can be easily ruined in the execution: there is a thin line between perfect creaminess and….glue

  29. Sumith Babu August 25, 2016 at 7:14 AM - Reply

    Chef what come in my mind first is aglio olio pepperonchino. Loved that simplicity in this dish. Will try it with prosciutto on al dente cooked pasta thanks for this share.

    • chef mimi August 25, 2016 at 8:48 AM - Reply

      That sounds wonderful! I’ll have to make that too!

  30. Hamdzinski May 17, 2017 at 1:11 AM - Reply

    Looks good😊😊

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