This authentic cacio e pepe recipe relies on pantry staples of pasta, cheese, salt, pepper, and olive oil as well as a nifty cooking technique to put dinner on the table before you know it.
“There are many ways to make this classic dish of cacio e pepe and each Roman cook will show you some slightly different ways to manipulate pasta, cheese, and pepper into a wonderful, warm bowl of comfort food.” So begins this seemingly unassuming recipe for authentic cacio e pepe. But when you peruse the instructions, that’s when the magic truly begins.
The cacio e pepe pasta relies on a method known as “risotato,” so-called because it is like making a risotto. The pasta is cooked not in a pot of salted water but in a frying pan just large enough to contain the spaghetti. As the cooking water is absorbed by the pasta the liquid in the pan reduces and becomes the sauce. And that’s just in theory. Wait’ll you taste it.–David Leite
Cacio e Pepe FAQs
Yeah, we get tongue-tied sometimes, too. Here’s the phonetic pronunciation kaa·choh ee peh·pay And here’s an Italian speaking it for you.
This recipe specifically calls for cacio de Roma (literally Roman cheese). And since cacio de pepe is a quintessential Roman dish, you’d do well to find some. It’s a semi-soft sheep’s cheese from Lazio (the region of Italy that encompasses the province of Rome).
While a hard cheese won’t give you quite the same result, there are substitutions. Most of our testers were unable to find cacio de Roma without specially ordering it, so if you find yourself in the same situation, you can use pecorino Romano (a hard sheep’s milk cheese) instead. Failing that, Parmigiano-Reggiano makes an acceptable choice as well
Although it’s not traditional, our testers had success making this with linguine, bucatini, penne, and gluten-free pasta.
Cacio e Pepe
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 11 1/2 ounces fresh tonnarelli or dried spaghetti
- Generous pinch salt
- 4 1/4 to 5 cups boiling water or exceptionally hot tap water
- 3 1/2 ounces cacio de Roma finely grated [See FAQ above]
- Grab your largest saucepan (you want it to be around 12 inches or 30 centimeters in diameter or large enough for the spaghetti to lie in a single layer) and place it over medium heat. Add the oil and pepper and heat until you can smell the heady spice of the pepper, about 2 minutes.
- Add the spaghetti to the pan along with the salt and about 2 cups (16 fluid ounces) of water. You'll want to watch out as the water may sputter when added to the hot oil. Add the remaining 2 1/4 cups (18 fluid ounces) hot water, little by little, as you would with risotto—that is to say, add a ladleful of hot water and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is almost but not completely absorbed before adding another ladleful of water.
- Repeat until the spaghetti is al dente and the water has reduced to a soupy consistency, 8 to 10 minutes. If the pasta starts to look dry, add a little more water but no more than a total of 5 cups (40 fluid ounces).
- While the pasta is cooking, warm some bowls in a low oven. (Don't ignore this step. It helps ensure the creamy sauce clinging to the pasta doesn't turn to clumps.)
- When the pasta is ready, remove the pan from the heat and add the cheese, a little at a time, stirring furiously and constantly, until a smooth and creamy sauce forms. Serve the cacio e pepe straight away in the hot bowls.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Wowee! I’ll be making this authentic cacio e pepe recipe again and again. Completely surprised by the easy method and the taste—both are fabulous. It’s the dish to make when you think there’s no food in the house. A few simple ingredients, paired with a glass of wine, and voilà—you have a fancy dinner!
I used pecorino Romano cheese. We had some leftovers, and they reheated okay in the microwave with a drizzle of olive oil and a quick stir after a minute or so.
To be honest, I didn’t think this easy cacio e pepe recipe would work. But it’s genius. The pasta was perfectly cooked. The sauce was super creamy and tasty. And all done in 10 minutes.
I’m in love! It took me about 8 minutes to cook the pasta, but I used fresh pasta (linguini by Bertolli ). I boiled water in the electric kettle, and in the meanwhile roasted the fresh ground pepper (I used a tricolored pepper) in the olive oil. Added the fresh pasta and a cup of boiling water. Stirred every minute or so, adding more water. After 8 minutes, the pasta was perfect. Added about 1/2 cup additional hot water and the cheese and stirred fiercely with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds. Done.
Perfect creamy sauce, coating the pasta nicely. The cheese I used was a young Reggiano. Love it and will give it a try with carbonara. The 4 servings are accurate, especially when you use it as a pasta course in an Italian meal.
This authentic cacio e pepe is a surprisingly simple and delicious pasta. Perfect for a weeknight meal, as it all comes together in 15 minutes. The starchy pasta water with the cheese makes for a silky and luscious sauce. The directions and measurements are specific, which makes it even more simple. Just follow it, and you’ll have a winner on your hands.
When serving, I topped it with a little more pepper and cheese. I could not find cacio de Roma, so I used a wonderful pecorino Romano. It seemed like a lot of cheese but was just perfect. This made 4 hefty portions. Serve it up with a salad and crusty ciabatta, and you’ll be in heaven.
This cacio e pepe recipe is the pasta dish to make when you need something that will impress your guests or family and doesn’t take long to prepare. In less than 20 minutes, you end up with a simple dish that’s spectacular. First, your taste buds pick up a slight peppery flavor. Next, you get a sensation that’s creamy without using butter.
I couldn’t find tonnarelli pasta, but Google said a good substitute is spaghetti a la chitarra. These are similar but made in different regions of Italy. The cheese expert at the store where I work didn’t have cacio de Roma but could order some. I used Parmigiano-Reggiano but will have him order the other cheese and try it with that, too.
I believe once you make this recipe, you won’t have to look at the written directions again. This is something you can easily throw together without amounts and still come out with a fantastic dish. Take the extra time and heat the bowls, as this recipe does cool off quickly. Yes, it serves 4, but you better dish out those servings right away, or it just may end up serving only 2. There is a nice creamy sauce, but it’s more of the amount you would find in Italy and not drowning in the sauce as preferred here in the States.
This cacio e pepe was really delicious and a breeze to put together for a quick weeknight meal with some sautéed kale on the side.
My only issue was the amount of pepper in the recipe was a little overwhelming. And I like pepper. I’d suggest perhaps starting with half the amount and adding to the finished dish to taste. I used pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated.
The timing was perfect—at 10 minutes, there was just enough liquid left in the pan to make a smooth sauce, no extra water needed. The pasta was still al dente, and when the cheese was slowly added, stirring constantly, it produced a very smooth sauce. Even as it cooled, the sauce stayed smooth.
This cacio e pepe highlights just how elegant a simple classic Italian dish can be. “Cheese and pepper pasta” sounds too simple, something destined for the kids’ menu at your local family restaurant. The resulting dish here, after relatively minimal work, is so much more than that simple title. Here you have the bite from the black pepper (more than most people would use for any recipe). The sharp funk from the cheese (I couldn’t find cacio de Roma, so I used pecorino Romano, figuring I should at least stick with sheep’s milk cheese).
The cooking method, unusual but very doable, is what takes these sparse ingredients and transforms them into something silky, delicate, and downright lovely. It’s too easy and a great new way to cook pasta while retaining that excellent starchy water for a sauce. Because the water was thickened with the starch, it really lent itself to creating a silky coating once the cheese was mixed in.
While this technique required a little bit more elbow grease, the overall time spent with this recipe was so short. I wouldn’t hesitate to cook pasta in this manner again (read: beginner-friendly.) If one were feeling a bit more daring and adventurous, a shower of shaved black truffle would elevate this dish to the level of sublime, just saying…
This is a delicious and very simple pasta dish. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to pay careful attention, though. I added about half the water at once, then added smaller amounts throughout the cooking process in order to achieve a creamy base.
I was able to find a semi-soft pecorino, although it wasn’t cacio de Roma, and it melted beautifully into the spaghetti. A nice creamy sauce was achieved, with plenty to go around for 4 plates. This is where you need to pay attention to the sauciness of the dish and add more water if need be. I am not sure how using Parmesan or regular aged pecorino would translate here, as both are much harder cheeses and don’t melt as well. I used a little more water than called for, and my actual cooking time was closer to 12 minutes.
My other concern was that perhaps 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper was not going to be enough. This was after researching other recipes that called for anywhere up to 4 tablespoons. I stuck with 1 teaspoon, and it was perfect—plenty of heat but not one person out of 4 diners thought it was too much. I served this along with a heaping bowl of greens—kale, chard, broccoli, and zucchini. The strong flavors of the greens really helped contrast with the quiet flavors in this dish, and I recommend this pairing!
When Italians want a quick weeknight pasta meal, they’ll either make this recipe or spaghetti aglio e olio. Either works for me, but I think this cacio e pepe recipe is my new favorite. So simple to prepare with olive oil, salt, pepper, grated cheese, and spaghetti—items that you would most likely have in your pantry at any time.
I’ve made risotto many times, but I’ve never used this method to cook pasta. It works like a charm. The starch is coaxed out of the pasta as it absorbs the water, and in just 10 minutes, a creamy sauce has developed. I used Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serves 3 as a main course, 4 as a starter.
I’m not normally a big pasta eater, so learning that this is a very trendy dish right now was completely news to me. I used a lovely tonnarelli and cacio de Roma and walked myself through this easy-to-follow recipe, ending up with a wow of a pasta dish—simple, creamy, comforting, and made with just half a dozen ingredients, counting the water. Yes, my water had properly reduced in 10 minutes and yes, the sauce was sooooo creamy and delicious.
As a pasta course before or alongside something else, this would serve 4. As the main course, this would serve 2. While I was thrilled to find the cacio de Roma cheese, I am sure this would be plenty wonderful with either the pecorino Romano or the Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s worth noting that I especially liked the technique of boiling the water and then cooking the pasta in the pan with the already-boiled water, as opposed to having to boil a huge pot of water.
Because pasta was not part of my cultural heritage, we ate very little pasta growing up, and it’s never my fallback for a quick meal or my go-to when cooking for company. This perfect recipe could change that for me since I’d be happy to eat this at the end of a long day and equally happy to show it off for guests. I don’t think anything I’ve said here quite sufficiently conveys my delight with this dish, so I’ll say it again, in closing, wow, just WOW.
This authentic cacio e pepe is good. It’s quick, simple, and tasty.
My pasta was cooked in the pan for 13 minutes. I used a 12-inch-wide, deep sauté pan to cook the pasta and make the sauce. It really is necessary to use a pan that wide, as the length of the spaghetti won’t really fit into anything smaller without breaking, and you really want all that luscious length.
I only used 4 cups of water, and after 13 minutes, the pasta was al dente, and I started adding the cheese. I used pecorino Romano. The method is truly like making a risotto.
The sauce after all the cheese was added was a little creamy but not cloying or heavy. The taste of the ground pepper does come through very gently. This is something fast and simple enough to make for dinner on any weeknight.
I think the only change I’d make is to finish the dish with a little chopped parsley or basil for a last-minute flavor boost. We served this with a light green salad with an oil and vinegar dressing.
This cacio e pepe recipe is a new favorite. It was quick and simple and was literally a total of 24 minutes from prepping to serving this dish.
The oil and the pepper took about 4 minutes to become fragrant. This was good timing because the oil was just beginning to smoke. I added the pasta and turned it to coat in the oil. This toasted a few strands of spaghetti, giving them a browned look. I added 2 cups of water at once and stirred. Then I added the rest of the water in 1/2-cup increments, stirring after each addition.
It only took 9 minutes for my pasta to reach al dente texture. I used Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and added it to the pasta about 1/2 cup at a time, vigorously stirring after each addition. This really did produce the promised creamy sauce. I heated the bowls in the oven at 200°F. It was fantastic.
I couldn’t resist making this dish when I read about the cooking method. I’m very glad that I did and will remember this pasta for when we need a quick meal. An extra bonus is that you have only one pan to wash. I didn’t think that this would be a good dish to have leftovers from, given what the author said about the cheese “setting,” so I made half a recipe.
When I started cooking the pasta, I was unsure of how all of it would cook in the 10-inch skillet that I was using. Some of the strands of spaghetti seemed to be on the raw side after the rest of the pasta had started to soften. Stirring it fairly often took care of this problem. At the 10-minute mark, the pasta was still too toothsome and needed more cooking time. I added more boiling water, a little at a time, straight from the kettle, until the pasta was al dente. I liked doing this slowly. It gave you the opportunity to let it cook slowly and made for a very creamy sauce.
Adding the Parmigiano-Reggiano put it over the top. It reminded us of fettuccine Alfredo. What a delicious bowl of pasta!
Carbs and sauce—a basic combination that makes so many satisfying meals we love. Even better when the combo can be prepared in a flash, and this pasta dish is exactly that.
I tested this recipe twice, and cheese seems to be the defining ingredient here. I made a 50/50 blend of pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano (both hard) for the first test and used cacio de Roma (semi-soft) the second time. The latter was the clear winner for me. The sauce was remarkably creamier and the flavor was rounder—like a silky béchamel—and an excellent cushion for the abundant black pepper.
The hard cheeses worked fine, but I found them a bit too sharply salty for this dish, and the sauce wasn’t quite as smooth. Another finding: very hot tap water worked just as well as boiling water. A one-pan/one-burner dinner for four—what home cook wouldn’t love that?! Oh, absolutely do serve this with bread so none of the sauce goes to waste.
I used Barilla thick spaghetti, and the cooking time on the package was 11 minutes. It took an extra minute for the pasta to cook to al dente, probably because of the small amount of water it was cooked in (no room for the pasta to “swim” in rolling water). If I had used regular spaghetti (cooking time: 9 minutes), I suspect it would have taken 10 minutes as stated in the recipe. This recipe feeds 3 to 4 people.
In thinking about another substitute for cacio de Roma (I wasn’t crazy about the results the two hard cheeses yielded), pecorino Toscano might be a good one. I didn’t test it in this recipe, so I’m only guessing. It’s another semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese (has to be young; aged one is hard & crumbly) with a round soft flavor. It’s sold at the market where I shop, and the price is about the same as cacio de Roma.
This was really good! Simple ingredients and came together in a snap. I used 9 ounces of fresh angel hair pasta, as that was the amount in the container, and I was only cooking for myself. I couldn’t really smell the pepper as it heated in the oil. The pasta sizzled when it hit the hot oil. Be careful adding the water, it might pop. I slowly added a total of 3 1/2 cups boiling water. Al dente stage was achieved after 6 minutes.
I removed it from the heat and added the hand-shredded pecorino Romano cheese. It was a creamy consistency but all of the cheese didn’t melt completely, there were still shreds of it. Maybe I didn’t stir it furiously enough.
The taste was great—very cheesy with a little kick from the pepper! Next time I’ll add a little garlic and fresh basil. I’ll also try using dried pasta. This is a great weeknight dinner that takes no time to make, and it’s quite hearty.
Cooking the pasta with this method was a bit different but worked great. My pasta was done at right about 10 minutes. I used spaghetti but would recommend bucatini (the spaghetti with the hole). I used equal parts Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino Romano but would suggest using just pecorino Romano. I added more cheese than the recipe called for because it needed a little more sauciness. The end result was a nice creamy sauce.
The pepper and cheese are a nice combination. I think my use of the Parmesan took something away, however. I’ll give it a couple more tries because it does take a few times to get everything just right. This is a great dish to make on a weeknight and is faster than any takeout. It was ready to serve in under 30 minutes. One note is to be sure the cheese is finely grated and fresh. This is a simple dish to make, but the ingredients can be difficult to obtain.
This cacio e pepe recipe is deceptively simple, but just like mastering the art of sublime scrambled eggs, it’s well worth perfecting the technique. I used spaghetti and pecorino Romano cheese. On my first go-around, I ignored the instruction to heat the pepper in the oil and used cold dishes. It was a disaster.
After rereading the instructions and following them precisely, my family was rewarded with a delicious, decadent pasta that literally took minutes to assemble. Heating the dishes is a must in this recipe, and I would also strongly discourage buying pre-grated cheese.
When I first read the technique for making this cacio e pepe recipe, I was incredibly skeptical. However, as it came together, I was in awe at how the pasta cooked in the time suggested and how the cooking water created a wonderful soupy texture and melted the cheese into a gorgeous creamy sauce.
Even as the bowls cooled the cheese didn’t separate and when I took the leftovers to work for lunch the next day they reheated wonderfully.
This is easily a dish I can call upon when I’m short on time as it took less than 30 minutes to come together. Though it packed a little bit of a kick, I would try using a bit more pepper next time. In some bites, it got lost in the tanginess of the cheese. I used Parmigiano Reggiano and it made a great creamy sauce.
This is probably one of the most basic and simplest pastas I’ve ever tasted, and yet it’s so full of flavor and with a perfect consistency! I was so curious about this dish, because of its simplicity, which is a characteristic of some of the best Italian dishes I know. In particular, I was curious about this method, “risotato”!
For this recipe, I used fresh spaghetti and Pecorino Romano cheese. The recipe is easy to prepare and works so well—about 8 minutes cooking and the pasta is al dente and the water has a soupy consistency, as expected. When I added the cheese, I got a nice creamy sauce and a well-balanced pepper and cheese taste for the pasta.
I’m also curious about the result with a different cheese, so I will try it again someday. It’s very important to serve the pasta in heated bowls, to prevent the cheese from setting, and to serve it immediately (I left a small amount in the bowl for some time and it became gluey). Serves 4, if served as antipasti.
I remember first glancing over this recipe and being especially intrigued by the comments on how quickly it comes together. This recipe became my last-minute solution for dinner and it was much more comforting and many levels above plain boiled pasta tossed with the same ingredients.
I had everything in my fridge and pantry—Parmesan, olive oil, salt, water—except for spaghetti. Yikes, I only had penne. I thought I would give it a whirl anyway and, by golly, it worked and was delicious! I am so happy to have found this new cooking method for pasta! For the penne, I eventually used all 5 cups of water and at the end, I had enough in the pan to make that great sauce. I used boiling water from my tea kettle.
Amazingly, the penne cooked according to the directions on the box and was the perfect, perfect al dente, cooking time was only 12 minutes. I was quite surprised. I loved that I had only one dirtied pan. As a result, I had three (including myself) very delighted tasters.
Penne would not be my first choice in making this dish as I imagine the parmesan clings much better to spaghetti noodles, but there were no complaints and I would definitely use it again if it was all I had…the saucy soupy cheese sauce almost reminded me of a very light fettuccini alfredo sauce.
I will definitely be making this again, and my teenager even asked me to email him a link to the recipe as well, he loved it!
This pasta was the perfect make-on-a-whim dinner for two last night. Since it was a whim rather than a plan, I used 115 grams linguine, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a half-recipe of the sauce for two of us. I used a large, heavy-bottomed skillet and a generous amount of pepper, and the sauce came together easily while I was tossing the salad and checking the pasta.
Dinner was on the table in less than half an hour, including weighing the ingredients and heating up the kettle (I used a total of ~3 cups water). I loved the flavor we got from so few ingredients, and there was just the right amount of toothsome sauce clinging to every bit of pasta. This is a keeper, especially for pantry dinners.
This authentic cacio e pepe recipe transports me to Da Felice in Rome where I first tasted cacio e pepe surrounded by locals enjoying an evening out. It’s so easy and so comforting that it should be added to your repertory, immediately. I like to warm the bowls by letting them rest beside my cooking pan on the gas top. Although I have a difficult time finding cacio de Roma cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano is a lovely substitute.
For those who are gluten free, this recipe works beautifully with gluten-free pasta, Bonta d’Italia being my favorite. Should you want a meatier, albeit not quite authentic, version try adding a bit of speck or thickly sliced prosciutto. I won’t tell.
Originally published February 20, 2016
I’ve probably made some version of Cacio e Pepe with my wife 50+ times in the last 20 years. And I’d say my hit rate of achieving a creamy no-clump sauce at BEST one in ten. I’m thrilled to announce that this batting average is about to go WAY up after trying this technique for the first time. It worked beautifully and we were thrilled to polish off the entire pan. Love being able to find these gems and so many more on LC!
Thanks, Mike! We’re so pleased that this worked so well for you. We can’t wait to hear what you try next.
I was wary with the method but it was perfect! Used fresh grated Parmesan. Chitarra dried pasta.
That looks perfect, Carlin! So glad you enjoyed it.
Really delish, and super easy. Nice to have a meatless meal for a change.
Thanks, Anne! We’re so glad you enjoyed it.