Cacio e Pepe

March 20, 2016

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: Although cacio e pepe is merrily served all over Rome as a quick and easy dish, the technique for making it right is a little tricky. The key is to emulsify the cheese into a little bit of reserved starchy pasta cooking water so you get a creamy, luscious sauce that coats the pasta. Unfortunately, if you don’t get it right, the cheese clumps up, but the good news is that it’s still perfectly delicious if that happens.

I heard a lot of variations when trying to figure out how exactly to make this dish—most of which didn’t work. I made one with a slurry of cheese, fizzy water, and cracked black pepper that was supposed to sit in the bottom of the bowl so the hot pasta would melt the cheese to coat the pasta strands. It didn’t work. Butter is a common addition in American versions of the recipe, and while it might work, it’s not Roman.

After all my experiments, this recipe was the winner. Enjoy.
Sara Jenkins

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns crushed in a mortar and pestle or 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 500 grams spaghetti
  • 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • About 3/4 to 1 cup of cooking water
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. In a pot over low heat, heat the crushed peppercorn with the olive oil.
  2. In a pot large enough to cook the spaghetti, bring water to a boil.
  3. Turn the heat off under the olive oil and add about 1/2 cup of the hot cooking water from the pot into the pan, then set aside.
  4. When the pasta water comes to a rolling boil, add the salt, stir, then add the spaghetti. Cook the spaghetti until 2 minutes under the lowest time recommended on the package. Using tongs (you don't want to get the rid of the water), add the pasta to the pot with the pepper. Turn the heat onto very low and turn the pasta continuously until most of the water is absorbed. At this point, remove from the heat and transfer to a warm bowl.
  5. Still tossing, begin adding the two grated cheeses, a couple handfuls at a time. If it starts to get dry, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of pasta water. Keep turning and turning, adding cheese and pasta water, a little at a time, until all the cheese has been incorporated and you have a lovely creamy sauce coating each strand of pasta. Eat immediately.

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Reviews (10) Questions (0)

10 Reviews

PtG February 20, 2018
I made this without the oil and it's delicious. I agree with wetting down the cheese with just a little hot pasta-water to make it into a thick paste. It will incorporate a little easier. I also boil the pasta in a shallow pan in only 2 litres of water to just cover it. This gives a really starchy water that really helps emulsify the cheese. To avoid the clumping, make sure you toss the pasta off the heat for 45sec-1min to cool it and the pan down enough. The heat will tighen the cheese up and keep it from making a smooth sauce. <br /><br />When it comes out right, this dish is heavenly.
 
angie January 4, 2017
Just made it. The cheese clumped a bit but overall it turned out well. It's really delicious and has a little bite from the pepper. I will definitely make it again. I added about 1/2 cup of pasta water in total. I wonder if I should have put more.
 
rob W. November 24, 2016
in a bowl cream together the 2 cheeses and hot pasta water to form a sauce then toss with the pasta
 
Barb M. February 16, 2018
Great idea - tried it and it works perfectly! Thank you!
 
Dr.Insomnia July 25, 2016
Hard to pronounce? C'mon.
 
Niki C. May 9, 2016
This was absolutely delicious! The only snafu I ran into was how badly my pasta stuck together. I was able to get the creamy sauce depicted in the instructions, but separating my spaghetti into individual portions was a task. Any suggestions?
 
Author Comment
Sara J. May 12, 2016
stir the pasta about 2 minutes after you put it in the water. If its the sauce that made the pasta stick together add a couple more tablespoons of water<br />
 
Elizabeth L. December 18, 2016
Pasta needs to be added to rolling boil water. Also, gently stirred continuously, and kept at rolling boil. It will then never stick together
 
Mike M. April 4, 2016
Although this isn't Roman (hope you'll like anyway), I substitute dried thyme for to black pepper (Someone in our house can't eat black pepper). Your instructions work for that as understandably well.
 
Mike M. April 4, 2016
Sorry, "...the black pepper...."