The Trick to Always-Creamy Cacio e Pepe Pasta, Straight from Rome

June 23, 2017

Hip hip for dinner—faster. We partnered with  Giovanni Rana , makers of traditional Italian fresh pasta, to share an extra-cheesy, homey recipe inspired by our editor Ali’s time in Rome.

One of the reasons to adore eating in Rome is that the experience is unapologetic (nothing at all like their people!). Options for wine: red, white. Lunch: nap-inducing stew—in a pizza pocket—with wine, side of rice balled up with melted cheese, breaded and fried. Why yes, your table is halfway into the bathroom. Of course they hand-make their pasta, and top cheese pasta with more cheese, and serve vegetables picked just that morning. Why are you asking questions?, the server’s face says. Just eat.

Bowls and bowls of cheesy pasta sent from heaven. (For one? For many? Your choice.) Photo by Julia Gartland

The Trip Advisor, Yelp, and similar stickers that canvas the glass doors to Sora Margherita always make me laugh because once inside, there doesn’t seem to be any interest in welcoming tourists, their questions, or their unwieldy cameras. The menu at this particularly crispy Roman-Jewish restaurant is in Italian—good sign—the wine verges on undrinkable, your table will get jostled by the many people snaking through the tiny aisles, your food will be plunked not placed on the table, and the amaro will spike your nose hairs.

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So when “cacio e pepe ricotta” is scribbled on the hand-written menu, without exclamation points or advertisement that it’s a house specialty, you do as the Romans do: Keep a straight face. Don’t freak out. Just order the pasta.

Cacio e pepe con ricotta

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If you think for a moment that this idea of dolloping ricotta on an already-cheesy pasta is extraneous, simply unnecessary, think again. Roman food isn’t gratuitous. There’s a reason for it all. Don’t ask questions.

Cacio e pepe is the pasta canon’s tricky sucker because there are many intangibles and learned tactile moments that are required to getting this simple pasta right: Your movements must be quick and correct and the temperature of your few ingredients (cheese, pasta water, pepper, pasta) have to be right, or the pasta might end up dry, the melted cheese clumped, and the cheese or the pepper overpowering the other.

For insurance, some add butter—Mario adds a whole stick—or egg yolks to maintain optimal goo, but some Romans would say nope, don’t go there. Just practice. Or another idea: Whack a puddle of ricotta onto the puddle of pasta. When folded into your noodles, it will look terriblewho cares what the food looks like?—but you can bet that your pasta will be unavoidably creamy and luscious, how the best cacio e pepe pastas are.

At Sora Margherita, you can eat “cacio e pepe ricotta” on any of the house-made pastas they’re offering that day: linguine, agnolotti, and so on. At home, use any pasta you like; we used a fresh five-cheese tortellini to show what gratuity really is. You bet any crowd would be overjoyed with a bowl of it in front of them, but we'd also make it for ourselves on a Tuesday.

You can use any cacio e pepe recipe as the base, but remember: No need for the butter, or the egg, or any other trick. Consider the ricotta your training wheels for making cacio e pepe successfully, only to never make it any other way again.

Giovanni Rana's artisan Italian products, like their refrigerated pastas, filled pastas, and sauces, are made with high-quality, fresh ingredients, and with no preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors added. (Hooray!) Head here to find out where you can get Giovanni Rana products in the U.S., plus more recipes and tips.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Courtney C
    Courtney C
  • judy
Editor/writer/stylist. Last name rhymes with bagel.


Courtney C. June 28, 2017
I was in Rome recently and had this at Sora Margherita. It was delicious, but I think I would prefer to make it at home from now on as the service at the restaurant bordered on being ridiculously rude. It was an experience though!
judy June 26, 2017
I grew up with this humble dish and didn't even know it. We often received government commodities that included pasta and grated parmesan cheese and butter. So buttered noodles with grated parmesan and pepper were a staple for us. My Mom did not cook, and id fell to e to do the cooking from an early age. This was one of my favorites and easy to do. Of course I didn't use pasta water, or any of the tricks here. I have since tried them, but I guess my childhood comfort food has too much pull--none of them are as good as my version. When I want to jazz it up a bit, I will throw in some granulated garlic and a tablespoon of tomato paste or a handful of english peas that I generally have on hand. It is a versatile starting point, but really best as simple pasta and parmesan and pepper......