This is a very special post to me because of the pure bond that I share with Cacio e Pepe pasta.
During the first few months of 2018, I lived abroad in Rome, Italy. A few nights a week, my friends and I would go out to eat at different restaurants around Rome, being sure to try different types of desserts, appetizers, and, of course, pasta.
I tried lasagna, carbonara, gricia, amatriciana…. But my favorite pasta recipe in Rome was always Cacio e Pepe. And there’s a reason for this!
You see, each region or city in Italy is known for showcasing one or two very popular dishes from that region. For example, Parma, Italy is famous for its parmesan. Bologna, Italy is best known for its bolognese. The north of Italy boasts the best pesto around! And Rome? Well, Rome is famous for Cacio e Pepe!
Cacio e Pepe is such a treat in my mind. In fact, it never gets old. I love the creaminess, the bite of the pepper, the slurp-worthiness of the noodles…. I love how easy this recipe comes together, how little ingredients it uses.
So I know what you’re thinking…
What is Cacio e Pepe? And What Does it Mean?
Cacio e Pepe is actually a very simple, especially tasty pasta dish. Cacio in Italian means “cheese” and Pepe means “pepper”. Simply put, this pasta dish is made of cheese and pepper!
Cacio e Pepe is normally made with long, twirly noodles. In the featured photos, I have used my recipe for homemade fettuccine noodles, but you can also use bucatini noodles if you’d like.
Is this Traditional Cacio e Pepe Pasta?
Well, it depends on how you decide to make it. Traditional cacio e pepe is made with only cheese, pepper, and pasta.
The traditional Pasta alla Gricia in Rome is similar to Cacio e Pepe except for the fact that guanciale— or pork cheek– is also used in the recipes. If you’d like to learn more about guanciale, read this article by Saveur Magazine on the topic. Pasta alla Gricia also uses rigatoni noodles instead of long bucatini or fettuccine noodles.
The way that I choose to make Cacio e Pepe is by combining the traditional recipe with a traditional Pasta alla Gricia recipe.
I use homemade, long fettuccine noodles, which mirrors Cacio e Pepe. However, I often choose to add pancetta (a more commonly found substitute for guanciale) to my recipe, which adds an element of Pasta alla Gricia to my meal as well.
If you want traditional Cacio e Pepe, simply eliminate the pancetta in the recipe. If you’d like traditional Pasta alla Gricia, switch the fettuccine out for large rigatoni. And if you’d like my version– which includes pure deliciousness– make this recipe exactly as is.
What Ingredients are in this Cacio e Pepe Pasta?
Pecorino Romano Cheese
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
Pancetta or Guanciale (optional)
Reserved Pasta Water
The Importance of Pasta Water
It may not seem like it, but the pasta water is actually one of the most important ingredients in this meal (along with the pasta… and cheese… and pepper… you know what? It’s all important).
When you boil your pasta in water, starches release into the water, making the perfect recipe to thicken sauces! When your pasta has finished cooking and you’re getting ready to add it to your pancetta pan, make sure to reserve a few ladlefuls of the pasta water.
If you add the cheese to the pasta without any water, the cheese will clump and thicken. But we want a creamy, delicious cheese sauce! Adding the pasta water to the pan with the cheese allows the cheese to melt into the water and create the sauce that we desire.
Seasoning your Cacio e Pepe
I have two very important notes for you about seasoning this Cacio e Pepe… First of all, add salt to your water when you’re boiling your pasta, but other than that…. DO NOT ADD SALT.
Pecorino Romano cheese is a very naturally salty cheese, and pancetta is a very naturally salty meat. Adding more salt into this pasta dish is unnecessary, and may result in an undesirable taste.
Pepper is, obviously, very important to this dish…. You can leave it up to your preference how much pepper you’d like to add into your Cacio e Pepe, but my recommendation is to use… well… a lot.
When I make this recipe for my cooking classes, I stand at the front of the room and grind the pepper by had. The attendants of my class always go wide-eyed, saying “wow… that’s a lot of pepper.”
I’m not a big pepper person myself. But trust me, this dish needs it. Don’t be scared of your pepper grinder!
No matter how much pepper you use, make sure that you’re grinding it fresh from a black pepper grinder. Black pepper loses its taste after being ground, so using pre-ground black pepper is not the best recommendation.
If you can find a pepper grinder to grind your pepper fresh, make sure to do so! It will make all the difference in the world.
If you liked this pasta recipe, don’t forget to check out my other pasta dishes on my site!:
- How to Make Homemade Pasta
- Matiabour (Tortellini) Soup from Armenia
- Vegemite Pasta from Australia
- Brown Butter Gnocchi with Sage and Walnuts
- Noodle Kugel
- Shrimp Stir Fry with Noodles from Cambodia
Cacio e Pepe Pasta
- 300 g grated pecorino romano cheese using the smallest setting to make the cheese into powder (about 3 cups)
- 400 g pancetta or guanciale, cut into small pieces
- Fresh ground black pepper
- ¼ – ½ cup reserved pasta water
- Prepare four servings of above pasta recipe.
- In a large pan, cook the pancetta until crispy.
- While the pancetta is crisping, cook the pasta noodles in boiling water until al-dente.
- Remove the noodles from the water, reserving about ¼- ½ cup of pasta water.
- Keeping the pancetta in the pan, add the cooked noodles and the grated pecorino cheese
- Add ¼ cup of reserved pasta water and mix.
- If the sauce is not creamy enough, add more pasta water little by little until desired consistency is reached.
- Coarsely grate fresh black pepper into the pan. Make sure to use freshly-grated black pepper, as the taste is much different than store-bought, pre-ground pepper.
- Serve and enjoy!