Cacio e Pepe is the ultimate Italian comfort food. Cheese and pepper pasta, served in a homemade parmesan cheese bowl, calls for just 6 ingredients. This Authentic Cacio e Pepe Recipe is on the table in less than 30 minutes! Makes 4 servings.
My friend, John Pham[pants], shared this recipe for us during my maternity leave back in 2015. He and I go way back to my personal blogging days of the early ’00s, and since he’s a video blogger, he created a super fun video documenting how to make this classic pasta recipe.
In his words: “Instead of doing a typical cooking post, I thought I do something different. I’m going to actually show you how to make Cacio e Pepe with my worst Anthony Bourdain impression ever.”
What is cacio e pepe?
This is a simple Roman pasta dish (pronounced kah-cho e pepe) that translates to “cheese and pepper” from Italian. It calls for both Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper and gets its creaminess from the salted pasta water melting the cheese into the sauce.
Some recipes call for bucatini, though we use spaghetti in this one.
Authentic cacio e pepe is basically a stripped down, grown up version of macaroni and cheese.
Why I love this recipe:
This Cacio e Pepe recipe is simple, flavorful and on the table in less than 30 minutes, which is a total win in my book.
Yes, you can make the parmesan cheese bowl, though that’s definitely optional when it comes to this pasta recipe… and some nights, when I’m trying to get dinner on the table for my family, it’s a lot easier just to make the creamy Cheese and Pepper Pasta and be done with it.
This simple pasta recipe bursts with flavor and sings in its simplicity. And Pham based this recipe off of the pasta he tasted at what he and a friend thought to be Anthony Bourdain’s Restaurant X years ago, so you know it tastes like the real deal.
Need dinner inspiration? Head on over to my Dinner Recipe Index for some ideas.
What you need to make Cheese and Pepper Pasta
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- Pasta pot (or large Dutch oven)
- Wide saute pan
- Box grater or microplane to grate the cheese
- Rubber spatula
What is Cacio e Pepe made of?
In addition to the tools above, you’re going to need some ingredients to make this cheese and pepper pasta, too.
- Spaghetti—Long, thin pasta is what you want for this recipe. You can also use a bucatini to make bucatini cacio e pepe.
- Pasta water—yes, this is technically an ingredient, and it’s an important one! In order for this pasta recipe to be lusciously creamy, the salted pasta water is what we need.
- Unsalted butter—We just need a little bit of this for creaminess and to get our dish started.
- Pecorino Romano—This cheese is the star of the recipe, and you’re going to need a lot of it. Purchase a block and shred it yourself because pre-shredded cheese won’t melt as easily or as beautifully.
- Black pepper—Freshly ground, if you’ve got a pepper grinder, is ideal. You’ll add this to taste near the end of the cooking process.
- Fresh parsley—I like to use this as a garnish to add a pop of color. It’s not necessary, nor will you find authentic Italian restaurants adding parsley to their Cacio e Pepe, so feel free to leave it off if that’s not your jam.
You’ll also need parmesan cheese if you’re going to make the parmesan cheese bowl. It’s a fun addition, but it’s certainly not necessary unless you want to make it.
Variations for Cacio e Pepe
- Add a protein, like baked salmon or broiled steak.
- Make it gluten free by using your favorite gluten free pasta.
- Add garlic as the butter melts to get some garlicky kick to this pasta dish.
- Love heat? A sprinkling of red pepper flakes would add a nice punch to this sauce.
- Add your favorite steamed veggies to get some greenery in this pasta recipe. I recommend broccoli or green peas, but honestly, the world is your oyster.
How to make a Parmesan Cheese bowl
Choose a bowl. The size of cheese bowl you want to create will reflect on how much cheese you should use. Choose a bowl to shape yours onto.
Melt the cheese. Heat a large pan on low heat until warm. Spread the Parmesan cheese evenly around the pan, being careful that it’s not too thick or thin.
Let the cheese cool. Once the cheese is fully melted, remove the skillet from the heat and let it cool for 3-5 minutes.
Form the cheese bowl. Using a spatula, loosen the cheese from the pan and turn the pan upside down. CAREFULLY peel the cheese over your upside down bowl. Let the cheese cool over the bowl until set.
Once set, remove the cheese from the bowl and create more, if desired.
How to make this authentic Cacio e Pepe recipe
Cook the pasta. In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Read the instructions on your pasta box. Mine said 11-13 minutes, but I cooked it for 9 minutes to ensure that the pasta still had some bite to it.
Save some pasta water. Make sure to do this in a heat-safe measuring cup. Reserve a cup or a little more before draining the pasta in a colander. Set it aside.
Make the sauce. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add a generous layer of freshly ground pepper over the melted butter. (I added a teaspoon, but this will be dependent on your tastebuds! You can always add more, but it’s hard to take away what’s in the pan.) Next, pour in the pasta water, and bring the mixture to a boil.
Add the pasta. Toss the hot pasta in the mixture using tongs, and add ¾ of the pecorino cheese, mixing until the cheese has melted into the pasta.
Serve with cracked pepper if desired, and serve in the parmesan cheese bowl. Garnish with additional pecorino cheese and parsley.
Erin’s Easy Entertaining Tips
Easy pasta recipes are excellent for low-key entertaining because they’re simple to make and come together pretty quickly. This authentic cacio e pepe recipe is no different, and it would be a lovely dish to prepare for guests.
Here’s the thing, though: You can’t make this in advance. This pasta is best when it’s hot out of the pan, which means you’re going to have to cook it while your guests are at your house. If that’s not your jam, find another recipe.
If it is, here are some ways to serve this recipe while entertaining without stressing yourself out:
- Get together your ingredients before you begin cooking. Set yourself up for success by shredding all your cheese and grinding your pepper in advance. Also, you can chop your parsley, if using, and make parmesan bowls an hour or two before guests arrive.
- Double the recipe. My family adores this recipe, and it’s perfect for the four of us. If you’re feeding more people, you definitely want to make more. While you can do this, make sure your pan is large enough to accommodate double the ingredients.
- Set up a “garnish bar” for guests. Since you’re going to be cooking while your guests are in your home, let them take control of the garnish situation. Have bowls of freshly ground pepper, grated pecorino romano, chopped parsley, etc., for them to garnish their dishes with once you serve them up. Consider adding a few protein options, too, like grilled shrimp or chicken breasts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Kah-cho e pepe is how it is pronounced.
Yes. This is a classic Roman pasta dish.
Technically, they’re the same thing. Pecorino Romano is a sheep’s milk cheese that’s hard and has strong nutty flavors, similar to that of parmesan.
To my understanding, cacio is the Roman name for Pecorino Romano while formaggio refers to any cheese in Italian.
Tips and tricks to the best homemade cacio e pepe:
- Grate your own cheese. This step is really important because pre-shredded cheese simply doesn’t melt as well. Since we want the pecorino romano to melt into the pasta, grating your own is essential. Use a box grater or a microplane.
- Add a little extra warm pasta water to help thin out any cheese clumps and make it creamier.
- How to store: We normally don’t have leftovers of this pasta, but if we do, we store it in an airtight food container in the fridge. It will last there for 2-3 days. Reheat in the microwave with a splash or two of water because that will help reconstitute the sauce.
If you’d like to watch John Pham make this recipe, head on over to his YouTube page.
Here’s how you make this authentic cacio e pepe recipe with a homemade parmesan bowl:
Cacio e Pepe is the ultimate Italian comfort food. Cheese and pepper pasta, served in a homemade parmesan cheese bowl, calls for just 6 ingredients. This Authentic Cacio e Pepe Recipe is on the table in less than 30 minutes!
Parmesan Cheese Bowl
- ¼-½ cup Parmesan cheese per bowl, finely grated
Cacio e Pepe
- 1 lb. spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ lb. Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
- ½ cup pasta water
- 1-2 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
- Fresh chopped parsley, for serving
- Additional grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving
Make the Parmesan Cheese Bowl
- The size of cheese bowl you want to create will reflect on how much cheese you should use. Choose a bowl to shape yours onto.
- Heat a large pan on low heat until warm.
- Spread the Parmesan cheese evenly around the pan. The cheese layer can't be too thin or too thick because it will break or fall apart otherwise.
- Once the cheese is fully melted, remove the skillet from the heat and let it cool for 3-5 minutes.
- Using a spatula, loosen the cheese from the pan and turn the pan upside down. CAREFULLY peel the cheese over your upside down bowl.
- Let the cheese cool over the bowl until set.
- Once set, remove the cheese from the bowl. Mold the bowl as desired.
Make the Cacio e Pepe
- Cook the spaghetti until al dente. (Read the instructions on your pasta box. Mine said 11-13 minutes, but I cooked it for 9 minutes to ensure that the pasta was al dente.)
- Save some of the pasta water using a heat-safe measuring cup. (I suggest 1 cup in case your pasta needs more.)
- Drain the spaghetti, and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet on medium heat.
- Add a generous layer of freshly ground pepper over the melted butter. (I added 1 teaspoon and then added extra, but this will be dependent on your tastebuds! You can always add more, but it's hard to take away what's in the pan.)
- Add the pasta water to the butter and pepper mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Add the pasta and toss it with the buttered water using tongs.
- Add ¾ of the pecorino cheese, and continue heating and mixing until the cheese has melted into the pasta.
- Add more cracked pepper if desired.
Put everything together
- Serve in the Parmesan cheese bowl.
- Garnish with the rest of the pecorino cheese, parsley and more cracked pepper.
My dear friend, John Pham, adapted this recipe from Restaurant X, as featured in Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations "Rome" episode.
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Serving Size:1 serving
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 533Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 90mgSodium: 1160mgCarbohydrates: 42gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 30g
Nutrition facts are an estimate and not guaranteed to be accurate.