Learn how to make the best cacio e pepe and you’ll never go hungry again. At least, you’ll never wonder what to make on nights when the pantry is almost empty and takeout sounds too expensive—yet this bare-bones dish is also impressive enough for dates. Our senior video producer, Guillermo Riveros, learned from the best: Jordan Frosolone, chef at 10 Corso Como—their cacio e pepe just made New York Magazine’s 2019 “Best Of” list, so we’re not kidding when we say this recipe is excellent.
What Is Cacio e Pepe?
It’s an old Roman pasta dish that transcends the sum of its very few parts: spaghetti, pecorino, and black pepper (the literal translation of the name of the dish is “cheese and pepper”). A ladleful of the starchy pasta cooking water transforms the briny sheep’s milk cheese into a luscious sauce that coats the noodles, and the cracked pepper adds a beautiful bite to contrast the rich, silky pasta. We spoke with another Italian expert for more info on the origins of this dish: see Lidia Bastianich on the history of cacio e pepe.
It’s easy to make, totally comforting, and immensely satisfying in every way possible.
The Importance of High-Quality Ingredients
You’ve heard it (and maybe scoffed at it) a million times, but it’s simply true: Since this dish is so stripped-down, it’s imperative to get the best-quality ingredients you can manage. That means good pasta, good cheese (Chef Frosolone recommends Brunelli or Casearia Podda, but definitely pick the finest pecorino you can afford), and freshly cracked pepper. Here are a few items that will come in handy for this particular recipe:
Mancini Spaghetti, $3.23 at Pasta Mancini
Another recommendation from the chef.
Unicorn Magnum Pepper Mill, $39.60 on Amazon
Pepper grinders are a must in any kitchen.
Microplane Premium Stainless Steel Zester Grater, $12.91 on Amazon
A great tool for finely grating just about anything, from cheese to citrus zest.
OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Locking Tongs, $12.99 on Amazon
To make maneuvering your pasta easier.
How to Make Cacio e Pepe
Feel free to make your own fresh pasta for this dish (see the video up top for instructions!), but know that it’s also just as good on a weeknight with store-bought strands; try any long, thin noodle shape you like, as long as it’s a good brand. Some cacio e pepe recipes will gild the lily with peas and/or pancetta, and you certainly can too, but try it this way first, in all its simple glory.
- sea salt
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 2 cups finely grated pecorino romano
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water once it’s boiling. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente (it will cook a bit more in the sauce, so err on the side of slightly underdone).
2. When the pasta is almost done, in a saute pan over medium heat, combine the pepper and a small ladle of pasta cooking water.
3. When the pasta is al dente, remove it from the cooking water with tongs (do not drain the pasta, as you may need additional cooking water from the pot) and add pasta to the pan of pepper and water. Toss the pasta in the sauce over low heat. Once the pasta is fully coated and the sauce is slightly thickened, remove the pan from the heat and rapidly incorporate 1 3/4 cups of the cheese. Adjust with additional hot water from the pasta pot if needed to melt the cheese and obtain the desired sauce consistency so it coats the pasta.
4. Plate the pasta and sprinkle each portion with remaining cheese and fresh cracked pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
So simple, but so good.