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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- Pistachio pesto brussels sprouts
- Extra garlicky and cheesy bread
- Best summer tomato salad
- Vegan caesar salad
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.
- Asparagus, peas, and pancetta pasta
- Garlic parmesan chicken pasta
- Creamy zucchini lemon pasta
- Spicy pizza pasta
- Asparagus and lemon pasta
Cacio e Pepe
- 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.
- 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!
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.