Cacio e pepe sounds fancy, but is actually a simple pasta dish. It literally means “cheese and pepper.” If you love black pepper and noodles, this is the recipe for you. I love the strong flavor of the pepper, almost like eating spicy noodles with an earthy aftertaste. It’s a cheap and easy meal to put together. Keep in mind if you’re vegetarian that Parmesan cheese is not considered a vegetarian cheese option.
Recipes for this tend to vary a little, but both Epicurius and Bon Apetit have the same recipe. You can find it here.
6 oz. pasta (such as egg tagliolini, bucatini, or spaghetti)
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed, divided
1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
3/4 cup finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
Some notes on the ingredients. I didn’t use two different types of cheese because I didn’t have any pecorino on hand. The different cheeses make for a better flavor, but not having fancy cheese on hand doesn’t make the dish impossible. Kosher salt adds a more robust flavor to balance the pepper, but sea salt or other salt works too. I used fettucine, but I usually prefer a thinner pasta.
1) Boil a pot of water. Sprinkle in some salt. Add the pasta and cook al dente as directed on the box.
2) Drain the pasta, but do not drain all of the water. Reserve 3/4 cup of water.
I find it easier to ladle the water into a measuring cup first before straining pasta. Also, I’ve been told it’s a cardinal sin to rinse your pasta.
3) Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pepper and cook, swirling the pan, until toasted, for about 1 minute.
I used the same empty pot. Saves on clean up.
4) Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to the pan. Bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and other Tbsp of butter.
5) Reduce heat to low and add Grana Padano, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. Remove pan from heat; add Pecorino, stirring and tossing until cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta.
6) Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry. Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve.
It seemed dry with just the 1/2 cup. The sauce should seem loose.
The pepper in this dish really packs a punch. I know I may not have the best tolerance for spice, but I’d even say this gets close to spicy. I think this would be better with a thinner noodle, but I enjoy the idea of making pasta different than the usual preparation. A jar of pasta sauce and plain noodles don’t compare to this Italian comfort food.