Cacio e pepe literally translates to “cheese and pepper,” and while those are the prominent flavors here, this dish is SO much more. It’s transformative. And what makes it so perfect? Its simplicity.
Pasta water is your best friend.
Remember the days when we used to overcook pasta, mindlessly drain it, and maybe even rinse it with cold water? (Read our tips on how to cook perfect pasta every time before boiling another pot.) Now, it's fairly common knowledge to do just the opposite. Cook your pasta—we’d recommend spaghetti, bucatini, or another long, thin noodle—until al dente in rapidly boiling, salted water. Go about 3 minutes less than what the package cooking time recommends. Then, right before you’re ready to drain, dip a liquid measuring cup in there and grab some of that beautifully starchy, salty water. This magical stuff is the backbone of this dish and will make your sauce smooth, glossy, and emulsified.
Toast your black pepper.
One of this dish’s namesake ingredients, regular old black pepper, needs special attention here. To get the most out of your pepper, you’re going to be toasting it in a mixture of butter and oil. You’re “blooming” the pepper—essentially, frying it in fat to deepen the flavor. Don't go too long or the pepper will burn—a minute is perfect. Freshly ground is absolutely key. Do not use a shaker! You’ll thank us later when your pasta is flecked with freshly cracked pieces of the good stuff.
Double the cheese, please.
For this recipe, you're going to be using two classic Italian cheeses: Parmesan and pecorino. Some recipes will have you use one or the other, but a fresh, finely grated mixture of both of them is what really balances the dish, and IMO, takes it to the next level. Toss, toss, toss, and watch as they quickly melt into the sauce and cling to the pasta.
Finally, be sure to eat immediately!
For more quick dinner ideas, check out alllll our easy pastas.
linguine or spaghetti
extra-virgin olive oil
Coarsely ground black pepper
freshly grated Pecorino, plus more for serving
freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. Reserve ⅔ cup pasta water before draining.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter with oil. Add a generous amount of black pepper and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add ⅓ cup reserved pasta water and bring to simmer. Whisk in remaining 1 tablespoon butter and, using tongs, add pasta, tossing into butter mixture.
- Add cheeses and toss constantly until cheese is melty, removing skillet from heat when about half the cheese has melted. (If sauce is too thick, loosen with more pasta water.)
- Serve topped with more Pecorino and Parmesan.
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