cacio e pepe featured image
Cacio e Pepe can be made in minutes with a minimal ingredient list. This delicious dish is fast, flavorful and full of perfectly coated pasta in a creamy, black pepper cheese sauce.
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Table of Contents
  1. Perfect Cacio e Pepe
  2. Why We Love This Cacio e Pepe Recipe
  3. Ingredients
  4. Substitutions and Additions
  5. Recommended Tools
  6. How to Make the Best Cacio e Pepe
  7. Tips
  8. Storage Tips
  9. Frequently Asked Questions
  10. Other Easy Pasta Recipes
  11. Cacio e Pepe Recipe

This classic Cacio e Pepe recipe requires only 5 ingredients and can easily be made in 15 minutes. This simple, rich dish consists of spaghetti that’s coated in a smooth, creamy cheese and black pepper sauce; it’s the perfect impromptu meal to cure a pasta craving!

cacio e pepe

Perfect Cacio e Pepe

Cacio E Pepe is a Roman pasta dish that literally translates to “cheese and pepper,” but I think it’s more like grown-up buttered noodles! In fact, making a delicious Italian meal should be anything but complicated. This recipe truly exemplifies the use of simple, quality ingredients in perfect proportions that quickly combine to create a deliciously creamy, dreamy pasta dish without the addition of any cream.

Instead, a simple substitution of boiling starchy water from your pot helps to mimic the same saucy consistency; it perfectly coats the pasta and helps to prevent the cheese from clumping when tossing it together.

While this trendy meal may be simple with its minimal and inexpensive ingredient list, and only take minutes to make, creating a smooth sauce from dry cheese and water is easy to mess up! But once you master my basic recipe directions, you’ll forever have a fast and flavorful new favorite meal that takes an ordinary pasta to an extraordinary level.

My not-so-secret solution is to revise the recipe to a two-pan method (the pasta cooks in one pan and the sauce in another) so the sauce is smooth and creamy and won’t clump–you get cheesy, peppery pasta in every tasty fork-twirl! 

Why We Love This Cacio e Pepe Recipe

  • Quick and easy to make in only 15 minutes.
  • Uses 5 simple ingredients that create a delicious pasta dish.
  • Spaghetti coated with fresh ground black pepper and grated cheese is fast comfort food at its finest!
  • Smooth and creamy sauce that’s perfectly buttery, peppery, and cheesy.
  • A quick weeknight dinner that’s family friendly.
cacio e pepe

Ingredients

  • Spaghetti noodles
  • Salt
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese: Finely grated cheese from a block is best.
  • Unsalted butter
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Salted & starchy pasta water: This should be reserved from the boiling of the spaghetti noodles.

Substitutions and Additions

  • Pick Your Pasta: Spaghetti is traditionally used for this dish, but any long, thin pasta will work. You can also use bucatini, thin linguini, or even a homemade pasta.
  • Choose Your Cheese: You can very easily substitute Pecorino Romano cheese in place of the parmesan cheese or a combination of the both in this recipe. You want to make sure you choose hard Italian cheese that is good quality and the freshly grated works best.
  • Go Gluten-Free: Make this recipe gluten-free by using your favorite gluten-free pasta.
  • Pair With Protein: Add a protein to the pasta like sautéed shrimp, grilled chicken, or bacon.
  • Flavor Factor: Add some heat with red pepper flakes or mix in some garlic cloves with the butter and black pepper.
  • Add Veggies/Greens: Feel free to add in your favorite cooked veggies, like mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini and red peppers or greens, such as wilted spinach, kale, collards, etc.
cacio e pepe
  • Large stock pot
  • Large skillet
  • Wooden spoon
  • Strainer
  • Serving dish

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How to Make the Best Cacio e Pepe

This Cacio e Pepe recipe is quick and easy to make if you follow these fool-proof instructions. Cooking the spaghetti in one pot and building the sauce in a second is the secret to creating a creamy sauce that doesn’t clump or break and that perfectly coats the pasta.

  1. Add spaghetti to 4 quarts of salted boiling water and cook for 8-9 minutes or until noodles are al dente.
    boil spaghetti
  2. About a minute before the pasta is done boiling, add the butter and black pepper to a large skillet.
  3. Toast the pepper in the melted butter for 30 seconds on medium-low heat and turn off the heat.
  4. Add the grated parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of the pasta water to the skillet and vigorously stir with the back of a wooden spoon until the cheese forms a loose sauce.
    Pro Tip: Fresh grated from the block of cheese is the only way to go with this! You can add an additional 1-2 tablespoons of pasta water if needed.
    mix ingredients in a pan
  5. Strain the cooked pasta, transfer it to the skillet with the cheese sauce, and quickly toss to completely coat the spaghetti with the sauce.
    add pasta to the pan
  6. Transfer your Cacio e Pepe to a serving dish and garnish with additional freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh cracked black pepper.
    cacio e pepe
  7. Serve and enjoy!

Tips

  • Fresh grated cheese is a MUST in this Cacio e Pepe recipe. If you use pre-grated cheese, your sauce will by clumpy. Pre-packaged cheeses are coated with anti-clumping chemicals which inhibit them from melting beautifully.  
  • Grate your cheese on the finest holes of your cheese grater (the small, prickly side of the box grater). Cheese that’s grated on larger holes will clump because it takes the cheese longer to melt and the larger amount of surface area allows for more clinging potential.
  • Use freshly cracked pepper, not the pre-ground pepper.  Unlike pre-ground pepper, freshly coarsely ground pepper has not been oxidized, or exposed to oxygen, which means it has a richer flavor and tastes much better than ground pepper. 
  • This is not a very “saucy” dish, and the cheese melts into the pasta pretty quickly. Therefore, I highly suggest serving immediately for best results. If you like it a little more saucey, you can add additional cheese and pasta water to create more sauce.

Storage Tips

  • To Store: Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
  • To Reheat: While this dish is best enjoyed freshly made, it can be reheated in the microwave until heated through. Add a splash of water when reheating. This will help to loosen the pasta and make the sauce creamy again.  
cacio e pepe

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Cacio e Pepe mean in Italian?

Cacio e pepe literally translates to “cheese and pepper.” The simple dish consists of spaghetti, black pepper, butter, salt, and cheese.

How will I know when my pasta is done?

The only way to know when your pasta is done is to taste it! I remove a strand of pasta with a slotted spoon, rinse it in cool water and then taste. Don’t be tempted to test it straight from the boiling pot–you will burn your tongue!  

What should I do with the cheese rind after I grate the cheese?

After you grate your cheese from the block of Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, make sure to save your cheese rind. You can freeze it in a zip top bag and use it to flavor soups and sauces at a later time. 

What should I serve with this pasta dish?

You can serve this delicious pasta dish with a green salad (like my Olive Garden Salad) and a protein for a well-balanced weeknight family meal. My Grilled Salmon or Lemon Chicken will pair perfectly with this pasta.

cacio e pepe

Other Easy Pasta Recipes

5 from 1 vote
cacio e pepe featured image

Cacio e Pepe

Serves — 4
Cacio e Pepe can be made in minutes with a minimal ingredient list. This delicious dish is fast, flavorful and full of perfectly coated pasta in a creamy, black pepper cheese sauce.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 15 mins

Ingredients
  

  • ½ pound (8 ounces) spaghetti noodles
  • 2 tsp salt
  • cups freshly grated parmesan cheese (finely grated from a block is best)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 2-4 tbsp salted & starchy pasta water (reserved from the boiling of the spaghetti noodles)

Instructions
 

  • In a large stock pot, filled with about 4 quarts of boiling water, add the salt. Once the salt has dissolved add the spaghetti noodles and continue to boil for another 8-9 minutes or al dente.
  • About a minute or so before your pasta is done boiling, add the butter and black pepper to a large skillet, on medium-low heat to toast the pepper for 30 seconds in the melted butter. Turn off the heat to the skillet.
  • Add the freshly grated parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and vigorously stir with the back of a wooden spoon until the cheese forms a loose sauce. You can add an additional 1-2 tablespoons if needed.
  • When your pasta is done cooking, using a large strainer, transfer the pasta to the skillet with the cheese sauce and quickly toss to completely coat the pasta with the sauce.
  • Transfer your cacio e pepe pasta to a serving dish and garnish with additional freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh cracked black pepper.

Jenn’s Notes

Storage:
  • To Store: Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
  • To Reheat: Reheat in the microwave until heated through. Add a splash of water when reheating. This will help to loosen the pasta and make the sauce creamy again.  
Tips:
  • Fresh grated cheese is a MUST in this Cacio e Pepe recipe. If you use pre-grated cheese, your sauce will by clumpy. Pre-packaged cheeses are coated with anti-clumping chemicals which inhibit them from melting beautifully.  
  • Grate your cheese on the finest holes of your cheese grater (the small, prickly side of the box grater). Cheese that’s grated on larger holes will clump because it takes the cheese longer to melt and the larger amount of surface area allows for more clinging potential.
  • Use freshly cracked pepper, not the pre-ground pepper.  Unlike pre-ground pepper, freshly coarsely ground pepper has not been oxidized, or exposed to oxygen, which means it has a richer flavor and tastes much better than ground pepper.
  • This is not a very “saucy” dish, and the cheese melts into the pasta pretty quickly. Therefore, I highly suggest serving immediately for best results. If you like it a little more saucey, you can add additional cheese and pasta water to create more sauce.

Nutrition Info

Calories: 423kcal | Carbohydrates: 44g | Protein: 22g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 48mg | Sodium: 1741mg | Potassium: 182mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 502IU | Calcium: 433mg | Iron: 1mg
Jennifer Fishkind

About Jenn

Jenn is a mom to three beautiful boys, wife to an amazing husband, social influencer and blogger. I love all things easy recipes, easy crafts, all things hacks, traveling EVERYWHERE and feeding my Pinterest addiction!

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