An iconic dish of the ‘Eternal City’ Roma, cacio e pepe or pasta de pepe simply translates to cheese and pepper pasta. While this dish is definitely not as well known as other Roman classics like Spaghetti alla Carbonara, it is cheesy indulgence at its finest. Cacio e pepe proves you don’t need a long list of elaborate ingredients to create a sauce full of flavour.
Strangely in a dish known simply as pasta with black pepper and pecorino we find no mention of the more recognised Italian word for cheese - formaggio. The choice of the lesser-known lexicon reflects an interesting linguistic nuance. The more familiar formaggio derives from the Latin forma, meaning shape or mould. In contrast, cacio comes from the Latin caseus. Which is the basis for the English word casein, the technical name for milk-derived protein and the stem for the English word ‘cheese’.
Whilst formaggio is the more widely used of the two, cacio is prevalent in the south. Parking this linguistic digression, the traditional base for this sauce sees the inclusion of just 2 ingredients: black pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese. The result is a deceptively simplistic sauce packed with flavour, much like a stripped-back ‘mac n cheese’, but suitably more rustic and Italian in spirit. Cheese lovers, this recipe is for you!
Our Authentic Cacio e Pepe Recipe
Watch as Lia guides you through step-by-step instructions on how to make cacio e pepe. The full recipe is below.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Calories per serving: 200 (without pasta)
- 200 g of freshly grated Pecorino cheese
- 2 tsp of black peppercorns
- 400 g of the fresh pasta of your choice (we recommend pici or bucatini)
- Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and ground black pepper to serve
- Toast the peppercorns until fragrant in a dry frying pan over medium heat, about 2 minutes. Keep them moving to prevent them from burning. Once toasted, roughly crush.
- Then, cook your choice of pasta in a large pot of generously salted boiling water for around 4-6 minutes, or until ‘al dente’.
- While the pasta cooks, add freshly grated pecorino cheese and crushed black peppercorns to a large serving bowl. Gradually add a cup of the boiling cooking water to the bowl, constantly mixing and adjusting as necessary to melt the cheese and obtain a silky, smooth sauce that’s able to completely coat the pasta.
- Once your cacio e pepe has become a creamy, silky sauce, add your piping hot pasta to the bowl and toss vigorously to coat.
- To serve, finish with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and some more ground black pepper.
Chef’s Tip: The critical component in this recipe is the addition of the starchy pasta water; it binds everything together to create a wonderfully creamy emulsion. To ensure maximum starchiness, we recommend adding the pasta water around 1 minute before you’ve finished cooking your pasta.
Which pasta to pair with Cacio e Pepe
The creamy indulgence of this Roman sauce makes it the perfect accompaniment to strand pastas like pici, spaghetti, tonnarelli and bucatini. Pici or bucatini cacio e pepe are our personal favourites and you’ll often find them on our weekly menu due to their thicker and chewier texture which allows you to lap up as much of this glorious sauce as possible.
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