Cacio e Pepe is an amazing pasta dish that literally translates to "cheese and pepper." Think of it as a simplified, grown-up mac and cheese. It's elegant, rich, and surprisingly easy to prepare. I'm not kidding when I say it's rich; this is a restaurant-quality dish that should be saved for special occasions. However, it's truly worth the indulgence every now and then. While the original version was true to the name and only used cheese and pepper, modern day recipes such as this one often include butter to help bring the sauce together (and for even more decadence).
Things You'll Need
8 ounces dried spaghetti (or similar)
1 cup reserved pasta water (see below)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces (1/2 cup) freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 ounces (1/2 cup) freshly grated pecorino romano
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
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Step 1: Gather Your Ingredients
Any time you're preparing a recipe with only a few basic ingredients, it's important to use go for high quality. This recipe is all about the cheese. You want to use fresh blocks of parmesan and pecorino (use Parmigiano Reggiano if you can find it and want the absolute best results), Grate it right before cooking the pasta. The same goes for the black pepper. Homemade pasta really takes this to the next level, but that's not as readily available so it's fine to use dried pasta.
Step 2: Grate the Cheese
You can grate the cheese by hand or with a the grater attachment on a food processor. The finer the better, as it will help the cheese melt into the hot liquid to form a sauce.
Step 3: Partially Cook the Pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook according to package instruction minus about 1 ½ - 2 minutes so the pasta can finish cooking in the sauce. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside.
Step 4: Heat Pasta Water and Butter
In a large, flat-sided skillet or heavy bottom saucepan, heat 3/4 cup of the pasta water and butter over medium heat until it reaches a simmer.
Step 5: Add the Pasta, Cheese and Pepper
Turn the heat to low and add the pasta, cheese and pepper. Stir for several minutes until the cheese has melted and a sauce forms. This will take some time; don't be tempted to turn the heat up or the cheese might break. Break up any clumps that form with a spatula. If needed, add the remaining pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to thin the sauce out if it's coming together but seems too thick.
Step 6: Serve Immediately
Divide into two portions. Top with additional cracked pepper if desired, and serve.