Cacio e Pepe Pasta (“Cheese and Black Pepper” Pasta)

cacio e pepe pasta

When my days are hectic and busy there is nothing I appreciate more than a quick and easy dinner. This Italian dish, which translated means “cheese and pepper“, is especially great because you don’t even need to boil the water first, you simply add the dry pasta right to a pan, cover with a little cold water and cook! The sauce is also a cinch to make and it consists of basic ingredients that are readily available in almost every home.

This recipe is right from one my favorite chefs, Alton Brown. He does such a great job of explaining the science behind cooking and then he follows up with easy step-by-step directions to create a yummy meal. You can find his original recipe right here . I followed the recipe exactly as written the first time but in subsequent makings, I adjusted down the amount of ground black pepper that is called for. I absolutely love pepper and I put it on everything but I did find that a 2 full tablespoons of pepper was a bit intense and overwhelming, especially for my kids. So I cut that back to only a tablespoon the next few times I made it. My advice is to start with just a small amount and then adjust accordingly as you cook. You can always add more if needed however, it is impossible to take it away once it’s been added. For a more hearty meal you can toss in some sliced grilled chicken or vegetables but it really is a wonderful dish simply as is.

One last note, I have found that the often times the cooking water simmers away before the pasta is finished cooking. If you notice the water getting too low, do not be afraid to add more to the pan, just get it back to a simmer quickly.  You will need at least 3/4 cup of the water to create the cheese sauce so don’t let your pan run dry, keep an eye on your water level. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dry spaghetti
  • 2 tbs Kosher salt
  • 1-2 tbs ground black pepper
  • 3 oz Pecorino-Romano cheese, finely grated 
  • 1 1/2 oz  Parmesan, finely grated 
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 to 1 cup starchy pasta water

Instructions

Add the dry pasta to a straight sided sauté pan then add the salt and just enough cold water to cover the pasta. Cover and set over medium-high heat.

When the water reaches a boil, remove the lid and decrease heat to medium to maintain a simmer. Stir the pasta every minute or so making sure the ends of the noodles stay submerged and that they aren’t sticking together.

While the pasta cooks, begin the sauce. Combine 1-2 tbs of ground black pepper, the Pecorino, all of the Parmesan and the olive oil in a large, deep mixing bowl. Work ingredients together with the back of a wooden spoon until a thick paste forms.

When the pasta has been simmering for 5 minutes, ladle 1 cup of the hot cooking water into a measuring cup then slowly drizzle 3/4 cup into cheese paste, mixing until smooth.

After the pasta has been cooking for 10 minutes start checking for doneness, you want it to be just barely “al dente” as there will be some carryover cooking in the next step.

Use tongs to lift the pasta out of the cooking water and allow to briefly drain before adding to the cheese paste. Grasp the pasta with the tongs and stir vigorously for 2 minutes (really use a lot of elbow grease here — this is not a light toss). The pasta will continue to release starch and the sauce will emulsify. Around a minute thirty you will see cheesy water magically transform into a proper sauce. If you find your sauce clumping, add a bit more of the pasta water and continue working the pasta.

Portion pasta into 4 bowls, top with a sprinkle of extra grated cheese and ground black pepper and serve hot.

2 thoughts on “Cacio e Pepe Pasta (“Cheese and Black Pepper” Pasta)

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