Cacio e Pepe literally means cheese and pepper in Italian. Consisting of just 3 ingredients – pasta, black pepper and pecorino romano cheese, it is the most basic yet exceptionally tasty pasta to master in the kitchen.
A perfect plate of cacio e pepe should be al dente, and each strand of pasta should be coated with a silky smooth, creamy sauce. The most common mistake (at least for me) is to end with a lumpy cheese sauce – not sexy at all. There are a couple of steps to make sure that will not happen and once you mastered them, this is one recipe you’ll want to keep for life.
Using freshly ground black pepper and pecorino romano cheese is highly recommended as they are the star ingredients for this dish. Pecorino romano is made out of goat’s milk and has a sharp and salty taste. If that is not readily available, you could substitute with parmesan cheese which has a milder taste but would work as well.
Following Kenji Lopez’s method of cooking the pasta in a pan of water instead of in a large pot, which uses half the amount of water, it intensifies the starch in the water resulting in emulsifying the sauce easily.
Lastly, don’t worry about not getting it right the first time. It might not look instagram-worthy but it’ll still taste good.
400 g spaghetti / linguine
2 tsp ground black pepper
180 g freshly grated pecorino romano cheese (substitute with parmesan cheese if you prefer a milder flavor)
1 tbsp salt
Adapted from: Chef Stefano Barbato
Fill a 12-inch skillet with about ¾ full of water, add 1 tsp salt and bring to boil.
In another pan, add in crushed black pepper and toast under medium heat for 3 to 5 mins, before careful not to burn the black pepper.
Add in a ladle of the boiling pasta water, mix well and turn off heat.
In a medium bowl, add in grated pecorino cheese and another ladle of pasta water. Mix well. It is okay for the cheese mixture to look lumpy at this point.
Cook the pasta according to the package instruction. If you like your pasta to be al dente, boil them 1 minute less from the stated time.
When the pasta is almost done, heat up the black pepper mixture in the other pan.
Use a pair of tongs and transfer the pasta into the pan. Toss well and add a little more pasta water if it appears to be dry.
Turn off heat and allow the pasta to sit for about 30 seconds before stirring in the cheese mixture quickly.
Keep tossing the pasta until you achieve a smooth and creamy consistency. Add a little more pasta water if necessary.
Add in more black pepper if desire and serve immediately.