The authentic Italian Cacio e Pepe recipe is made in minutes with only three simple ingredients: Pecorino Romano Cheese (Cacio), black peppercorns and pasta. A triad of simple but strong flavors that come together in this recipe, perfect for any occasion.
A dish prepared with few traditional Italian ingredients, simple and genuine, which has its roots in the world of sheep farming and quality raw materials.
Cacio e Pepe pasta is a real institution in Rome. It’s certainly quick to prepare but not very easy to make. The simplicity of this recipe is in fact only apparent.
Precisely because there are only two ingredients besides pasta, the difficulty lies in balancing them perfectly and in creating a cacio e pepe sauce that is flavorful and creamy just right.
In fact, there are many pitfalls to pay attention to such as cooking, the formation of lumps, excess salt.
If you want to find out all the secrets to make the best cacio e pepe recipe, you’re in the right place. Now we are going to show you how to make the authentic Italian recipe for spaghetti Cacio e Pepe!
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How to Make Authentic Cacio e Pepe Recipe
- Prep Time: 10 Min
- Cook Time:10 Min
- Yields : 4
Kitchen Tools and Equipment
You can also use a pepper grinder, but it has to be an adjustable grinder, for a medium grind. This Pepper Grinder from Oxo has a rotating tab to adjust the pepper grinder setting from fine to coarse.
Then you need a grater for Pecorino Romano cheese. There are various types and models. Have a look to the classic hand grater or this rotary Cheese Grater with stainless steel drum for grating hard cheeses.
The electric graters are also very useful. These appliances have various attachments that are useful for slicing/chopping vegetables or other ingredients and for grating aged cheese.
The pan used to finish cooking the pasta is also important. It should be a Stainless Steel pan, large enough for the pasta to mix well.
Step 1) – First start by grating the Pecorino Romano. When ready, set aside in a bowl.
Then grind the black peppercorns. For this you can use a pestle, a meat pounder or a pepper grinder adjusted so that it doesn’t grind too finely. The black pepper should not be a powder.
Step 2) – Toast the ground pepper in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir occasionally and check to make sure it doesn’t burn. It will take 2 to 3 minutes and you will smell the intense aroma of the pepper. Set aside.
Step 3) – Now boil the water with very little coarse salt (maximum 1/2 tablespoon) to cook the pasta. Respect the quantity of water indicated in the ingredients. This in fact, as you will learn, is essential for the success of the recipe.
When the water boils, put in the spaghetti. Let the pasta cook for about 5 minutes.
Step 4) – Meanwhile add 2 ladles of pasta cooking water to the toasted black pepper and turn the heat under the skillet to low.
Step 5) – After the first 5 minutes of cooking, now is the time to transfer the pasta from the pot to the skillet. The spaghetti should FINISH COOKING IN THE SKILLET with the pepper.
Step 6) – Check the cooking time on the spaghetti package. Add another ladle of pasta water if needed and stir to get even cooking.
SAVE THE COOKING WATER. The pasta cooking water is rich in starch which is used to make the pasta creamy. You need it also to make the Pecorino cream (read the paragraph below “How do You Keep Cheese from Clumping in Cacio e Pepe?”).
Step 7) – While the pasta is cooking, make the Pecorino cream. Pour a ladleful of the starchy cooking water over the grated pecorino cheese and stir quickly. You’ll get a creamy consistency similar to ricotta.
Step 8) – Once the spaghetti are cooked, turn off the heat, wait about half a minute and then add the pecorino cream a little at a time. Stir in the spaghetti evenly. Spaghetti cacio e pepe recipe is ready!
If you like, add more grated pecorino just before serving and another sprinkle of pepper for garnish. Serve pasta Cacio e Pepe immediately and strictly hot.
Pasta Cacio e Pepe should be eaten immediately, as soon as it’s made. We do not recommend storage or freezing.
What Pasta is Best for Cacio e Pepe?
Long pasta is certainly a favorite for this recipe. It must be bronze drawn with a rough surface that better retains the pecorino cream. Traditionally, THICK SPAGHETTI are the favorite.
BUCATINI, thick spaghetti with holes in the center, are also popular in traditional Roman recipes.
TONNARELLI are also widely used for this recipe. In fact, many claim it’s the perfect pasta for this recipe. It’s a square-section pasta with a porous texture.
You may have already heard them referred to as “SPAGHETTI ALLA CHITARRA”, from the name of the tool with which they are made: a wooden frame with metal wires that resembles the musical instrument of the guitar.
What kind of Cheese is Cacio?
Although many people in Italy use the word “cacio” to refer to cheese in general, they use only Pecorino Romano cheese to make the authentic cacio e pepe recipe! Better if it’s Pecorino Romano DOP.
Because only this cheese has the particularity of melting in hot water and binding with the starch released from the pasta, forming the creamy sauce that is the characteristic of this dish.
Pecorino cheese must have a medium seasoning: if it’s too young it’s not suitable for grating, if it’s too seasoned you risk having a dish too salty!
Pecorino is very tasty and for this reason it’s better not to add too much salt to the pasta water.
Why Using Whole Black Peppercorn?
As we said in the description of the recipe, black pepper must be whole.
Pepper in this recipe is not a decoration. On the contrary, it’s an essential ingredient.
You need to taste the flavor and aroma of black pepper when you eat this dish. That is why it’s better to toast the pepper in a skillet, so that it releases all its aroma.
It’s also very important to grind the pepper at the moment. For this reason, as we have already mentioned, it’s better to use a pestle and make a coarse grind.
How do You Keep Cheese from Clumping in Cacio e Pepe?
In the recipe for Cacio e Pepe, the pasta cooking water becomes a real ingredient.
First of all, it’s essential to use less water than usual for cooking pasta. In fact, the rule is that for every 100 g (3,50 oz) of pasta you need 1 liter (4 cups) of water. For this recipe, however, we recommend 1/2 liter (2 cups) of water for every 100 g (3,50 oz) of pasta.
The goal is to have a water rich in starch.
STARCH-RICH WATER IS THE FOURTH INGREDIENT
When making pecorino cream, the starch released in the water hinders the tendency of proteins to coagulate. This prevent the formation of lumps or worse that the pecorino pile up in a single block.
The starch contained in the water is essential to have the typical creaminess of this recipe.
Cacio e Pepe: Some Variants
As it happens with all traditional recipes, variations are not very popular.
Especially for this recipe that has few ingredients, any variation risks altering it completely.
However, some variants are worth mentioning.
If you Prefer Short Pasta
The first variation has to do with the shape of the pasta. Many, in fact, love short pasta with cacio e pepe sauce.
You can substitute spaghetti or bucatini with macaroni, penne or rigatoni. Rigatoni Cacio e Pepe are very common in Italy. Rigatoni is a short pasta typical of the Roman tradition.
For a Less Strong Taste
Those who do not like the too strong taste of pecorino cheese, can mix Parmigiano and Pecorino in equal parts, even though in this way the meaning and the origins of cacio e pepe recipe are a bit distorted.
The important thing is that the Parmigiano cheese must be sufficiently aged because if it’s too fresh it will tend to form lumps and threads when you mix the pasta.
For a More Aromatic Cacio e Pepe
To give this dish an extra touch of freshness and flavor, some people use to add finely chopped lemon zest or wild fennel to the finished dish before serving.
Cacio e Pepe: Origins
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe is a typical dish of the Roman cuisine and tells, with its taste, centuries of traditions.
In fact, until almost all of 1700, the most used condiment for pasta was cheese. Proof of this is what Goethe wrote in his work “Journey in Italy”, when he said: “Macaroni are mostly cooked in pure water and grated cheese is put on top, which acts both as fat and as a condiment”.
Cacio e Pepe is a dish belonging to the Italian cucina povera, originated by Ager Romanus shepherds during transhumance. With time it spread in the pastures of Latium and Umbria.
The shepherds, spending long periods away from home, filled their saddlebags with pieces of seasoned cheese (pecorino), grains of pepper and dried pasta.
These foods could be stored for long periods, were easily transportable and provided enough nourishment and caloric support to sustain the shepherds in their daily activities, especially in winter.
Soon all Roman taverns began to serve Cacio e Pepe making it a real business; tradition says the dish was specially made very salty.
The intention was to make the client very thirsty and therefore induce him to order more wine and beverages to the innkeeper!