This classic Roman dish is perfection in its simplicity. Toasted pepper and flavorful cheese make this pasta one of our favorites. Although it has few ingredients, there are a couple of important techniques to make that super creamy luscious cheese sauce! No need to add heavy cream or milk to this recipe! This Creamy Cacio e Pepe Pasta is so easy and comes together in less than 20 minutes for a perfect dinner any night of the week!
What is Cacio e Pepe?
Cacio e Pepe is a classic pasta dish originating in Rome, Italy. Simply translated from Italian to “cheese and pepper,” with these being the main ingredients. Traditionally, this simple dish only has 3 ingredients: spaghetti, Pecorino Romano cheese, and cracked black pepper. But when made correctly, this dish is out of this world with a creamy cheese and pepper sauce.
Variations of this classic dish can be found throughout the different regions of Italy using local pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese) and regional pasta shapes. Whenever we see this tasty dish on a menu in Italian restaurants, we order it! And it never disappoints!
Tips for the Perfect Creamy Cacio e Pepe Pasta
Although this Cacio e Pepe recipe is quite a simple recipe with simple ingredients, it can be tricky to get the perfect consistency. Here are a few tips to make the perfect Cacio e Pepe!
Pasta Cooking Water
First, cook the pasta in much less water than usual. The pasta water is combined with the grated cheese to create the sauce. Using less water than you usually would to cook the pasta will result in a more starchy water. This will provide more body to the dish at the end and it will help to bind the sauce and allow it to stick better to the pasta when combined.
We use an 8-quart pot to cook our pasta and fill it up halfway with water (about 4 quarts of water).
Picking a Young Cheese
Secondly, it is important to use younger cheeses that are aged for fewer months as they will produce the best texture in the dish. Younger versions of these cheeses will be softer and a bit milder in flavor, but will also have more lactose and moisture, creating the perfect sauce.
Pecorino cheese is aged for a minimum of 5 months, so look for pecorino that is on the younger end of the spectrum for best results in this dish.
Additionally, DO NOT buy pre-grated cheese. Pre-grated cheeses often have anti-clumping agents in them which will interfere with the emulsification process for a creamy sauce.
We like to use a mixture of pecorino and parmesan in our version of this dish, but you can make this with 100% pecorino if desired. We have made this dish with Pecorino Toscano and loved it also – the flavor was just slightly milder.
Making the Creamy Pecorino Cheese Sauce
The most important part is this dreamy sauce! You will notice in our recipe that we add a touch of olive oil with the cheese. We learned this trick from taking a cooking class with an Italian chef a few years ago. The addition of the olive oil to the grated cheese and pasta water results in better emulsification for a smooth sauce that is creamy and thick.
Make sure you whisk the cheese sauce vigorously until it’s smooth and combined for best results.
Want to try this dish with homemade past? Check out our Homemade Pasta recipe for our multipurpose pasta dough and cut into the pasta shape of your choice!
We hope that you enjoy this recipe for Creamy Cacio e Pepe Pasta! If you give this recipe a try, click the heart button, leave us a comment and 5-star rating below, or tag us on Instagram @cooking_with_wine! Buon appetito!
Looking for more delicious pasta recipes? Check these out:
- Summer Pasta (Pasta D’Estate)
- Fettuccine Alfredo with Mushrooms (No Cream)
- Creamy Pesto Pasta with Seared Scallops
- Spaghetti Carbonara with Asparagus
Creamy Cacio e Pepe Pasta
- 1 Large frying pan
- 1 Large pot
- 5 ounces 150g pecorino cheese*, freshly grated
- 1 ounce 30g parmesan cheese*, freshly grated
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt for pasta cooking water
- 12 ounces spaghetti, linguine, bucatini pasta or something similar
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- Put the cheeses and the olive oil in a bowl and set aside.
- Fill a large pot halfway with water (about 4 quarts of water is perfect) and 1 tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the large pot of salted water and cook until about 75-80% done (follow the package directions for timing).
- A couple minutes before the pasta is ready, heat a large skillet (large enough to hold all the pasta) over medium heat and add the cracked black pepper for about 30 seconds. Reduce the heat to low and add 3 ladles (about 1 cup) of the hot starchy pasta water to the pan with the pepper and allow it to simmer on low heat. Remove the partially cooked pasta from the water and add to the pan with the pepper and stir to combine and continue to simmer. The pasta will cook until done (al dente) in the pan.
- Meanwhile, add 1 ladle (about ⅓ cup) of the starchy pasta cooking water to the bowl of grated cheese. Vigorously whisk the cheese and the pasta water to create a thick paste/sauce consistency. Add the emulsified sauce to the pan with the pasta and stir to combine. This should create a perfect consistency, but you can add more pasta water if needed to thin it out. The salty cheeses used in this dish may be enough salt for your taste, but taste for seasoning and add additional salt as needed.
- Serve with additional grated pecorino and/or parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper if desired. Buon appetito!