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Cacio e Pepe

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Cacio e pepe is a classic pasta dish with a sharp peppery flavor, and rich, salty cheese. It only uses a few ingredients, but its simplicity makes it one of my favorites. 

A bowl filled with cacio e pepe, topped with parmesan cheese nad black pepper, next to a fork, on top of a placemat.

Cacio e pepe is one of my go-to Italian dishes. This cheesy, peppery recipe hits the spot almost anytime that I’m craving pasta. It’s a simple dish that only uses five household ingredients. Like so many Italian recipes, the simplicity of cacio e pepe is part of what makes it so good. Who needs a million different ingredients when you have a few simple ones that mesh together perfectly? 

This is also a go-to weekday meal in my house, because it only takes 20 minutes to make. It’s rich, spicy, quick, and easy. What more could you ask for? 

What Makes Cacio e Pepe So Good?

The main thing that makes cacio e pepe so good is that the flavors go together so well. The pasta is seasoned with two ingredients: black pepper and parmesan cheese. The spicy bite of pepper pairs perfectly with the rich, creamy, saltiness of the parmesan. It’s a match made in heaven. 

Cacio e pepe is one of the four classic Roman pasta dishes, and it’s not hard to see why. 

Recipe Ingredients

Here are the ingredients you need to make this recipe at home. Scroll to the recipe card at the bottom of the page to see the specific quantities for each ingredient. 

  • Dried pasta – This dish is traditionally made with spaghetti, but you could make it with other types of pasta if you wanted. 
  • Butter – Use unsalted butter for this recipe. 
  • Parmesan cheese – You can use freshly-grated parmesan cheese, or pre-grated cheese. 
  • Ground black pepper
  • Salt
Close up of a bowl of cacio e pepe, topped with parmesan cheese and black pepper.

How to Make Cacio e Pepe

This Italian dish is so quick and easy to make. There are only a few steps, and they’re very easy to follow.

  • Cook the pasta. Bring water to boil in a pot, and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. When the pasta is done cooking, drain it. 
  • Add the butter. Put the pasta in a bowl, and add the butter in pieces. 
  • Add the seasonings. Add the pepper and parmesan cheese to the bowl, and stir to combine.
  • Adjust. Taste the pasta and add salt if necessary, then serve hot. Top the pasta with more pepper and cheese. 

Tips for a Perfect Plate of Pasta

Here are some tricks and tips for making this Italian pasta be a show stopping dish. 

  • Use fresh pepper. There’s a big taste difference between freshly-ground black pepper and pre-ground pepper. For a lot of recipes you can’t tell the difference, but when pepper is the star of the dish, the flavor is noticeable. Freshly-ground black pepper has a stronger bite, and a more floral taste. 
  • Use good cheese. One of my favorite things about this recipe is that it tastes amazing even if you use cheap, pre-grated parmesan cheese. But if you really want to make the best version of this cacio e pepe, freshly grate a nice quality parmesan.
  • Salt the pasta water. When cooking the pasta, add a good amount of salt to the water. That way the pasta will be seasoned all the way through, instead of just with the sauce.
  • Reserve some pasta water. Before draining your pasta, reserve some of the water it was cooked in. Then, if your pasta is a little dry or gummy, add a some of the water to the mixing bowl. This will help the mixture emulsify. 
  • Use butter at the right temperature. The key to getting a perfectly glossy sauce is using the right temperature butter. If your butter is too cold, it will cool off the spaghetti too quickly, and keep the sauce from developing. If your butter’s too soft, it will fully melt when it touches the pasta, and the cacio e pepe sauce will be watery. For the perfect sauce, leave the butter in the fridge until you start making the meal. Then take the butter out of the fridge. By the time the pasta has cooked, the butter will be the perfect temperature for this Italian dish.
A bowl of cacio e pepe topped with parmesan cheese and black pepper, next to a fork.

Common Questions

Here are the answers to some common questions about this pasta dish. 

What does cacio e pepe mean in Italian?
This dish is very simple, and so is the name. Cacio e pepe translates to “cheese and pepper.” That’s a pretty accurate name! 

What does cacio e pepe taste like?
Cacio e pepe is a brilliant blend of richness and spiciness. It has the bite of black pepper, but it’s balanced by rich, creamy butter, and salty, smooth cheese. It’s not too spicy, but it does have a nice kick. 

Is cacio e pepe the same as Alfredo?
No, there’s a difference between cacio e pepe and Alfredo sauce. A traditional Alfredo is butter and cheese, but doesn’t have pepper like cacio e pepe does. The kind of Alfredo that you’ll find in a jar in the store has a large amount of cream, which isn’t in cacio e pepe. 

Close up of a fork wrapped with cacio e pepe spaghetti, covered in ground pepper and parmesan cheese.

Serving Suggestions

Because cacio e pepe is a pasta dish, I like to serve it with some classic Italian sides. Here are a few of my favorite things to serve this recipe with. 

How to Store and Reheat Leftovers

You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days. To reheat, add a little water to the pasta, and cook on the stove over medium heat, stirring constantly. You can also reheat in the microwave.

If you want to freeze the pasta, you can keep it in an airtight container in the freezer for 3 months. Defrost the pasta before reheating.

More Pasta Dinner Ideas

Hopefully you loved this cacio e pepe. If so, make sure to check out some of my other favorite pasta dishes. 

Such an easy pasta dish to whip together! Cacio e Pepe recipe on tablefortwoblog.com

Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e pepe is a traditional Italian pasta seasoned with black pepper and parmesan cheese. It's rich, spicy, and takes only 20 minutes to make.
4 from 1 vote
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: Julie Chiou
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Ingredients 

  • 1 pound dried spaghetti pasta
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese + more for topping, (can either be freshly grated or the green jar kind)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper + more for topping
  • Salt, to taste

The default measuring system for this website is US Customary. Unit conversions are provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. While we strive to provide accurate unit conversions, please be aware that there may be some discrepancies.

Instructions

  • In a large stockpot, boil water and cook spaghetti according to directions on box.
  • Remove and drain well. Put pasta in a large bowl and place pads of butter on top and toss to melt.
  • Toss with Parmesan cheese, ground black pepper, and salt (to taste).
  • Serve and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

Store the cacio e pepe in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. To reheat, add a little water and cook on the stove over medium heat. You can freeze the pasta for up to 3 months in an airtight container. 

NUTRITION FACTS

Serving: 0.25 of recipe | Calories: 531 kcal | Carbohydrates: 83 g | Protein: 19 g | Fat: 15 g | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 4 g

This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.

Course: Main Entree, Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: cacio e pepe, italian dinner ideas, pasta dinner ideas, pasta roma
Recipe Rating




Kimberly

Wednesday 30th of January 2019

You can kick this dish up a notch by melting then browning the butter on the stove first. Takes it to a whole new level with the nutty buttery flavor.

Ronnie

Tuesday 11th of October 2016

Would like the recipe to try. Thank you

Julie

Tuesday 11th of October 2016

If you are on a mobile device, scroll back up and click on the big purple button that says "CLICK HERE FOR THE RECIPE"

Maggie

Thursday 28th of April 2016

This looks delicious! Sounds like a perfect and simple dish to make after a grueling day of grad school! I love wearing a sleep mask since my husband and I have different schedules. Those things are lifesavers. And I often wake up with my retainer on the pillow beside my head! Haha.

alisha

Saturday 14th of November 2015

I did take the liberty of adding a little lemon rind and it brought it out nicely-my kids love this recipe

Katherine

Wednesday 3rd of December 2014

How can something so simple taste so delicious? I made this last night for me and my two year old son. I added a small handful of season breadcrumbs to the dish when I added the cheese (I do that a lot with weeknight pasta dishes, just to give it a little something extra). We both cleaned our plates. I used less pepper since I was sharing with a little one, but this is comfort food at its finest. Glad I found your blog!

Julie

Thursday 4th of December 2014

I know! Sometimes the easiest dishes are the best :) so glad you found my blog!