Cacio e Pepe with Pancetta and Arugula

This riff on cacio e pepe with pancetta and arugula packs a flavor wallop. Curly pasta is tossed with Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino-Romano cheeses, butter, crisped pancetta, and wilted greens.

Curly pasta, arugula, pancetta, ina creamy cheese sauce dotted with pepper

This weeknight pasta fix, a riff on an Italian classic, is all about the ingredients. “Cacio e pepe” literally translates as cheese and pepper, the two predominant ingredients, so by all means splurge for the real deal Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino Romano. And not that preshredded stuff. Ditto for buying already ground black pepper. Then behold the magic of quality ingredients, brought together with a little care and finesse, to glam up tradition. Any short pasta with curves and curls will work beautifully to capture the light, creamy sauce punctuated with crisp, salty nuggets of pancetta and barely wilted arugula. If baby kale or spinach is more your groove, or if you’d prefer to toss in some artichokes or roasted asparagus, by all means, don’t let us, or tradition, stop you.–Jenny Howard

Cacio e Pepe with Pancetta and Arugula

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 40 M
  • Serves 4 to 6
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Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 2 minutes less than the package directions, about 8 minutes. Drain well, reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a large, straight-sided skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often, until the pancetta is crisp, about 8 minutes. Stir in the pepper and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in 1/2 cup reserved pasta water and combine, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any crisp bits of pancetta that are sticking to the bottom of the skillet.

Add the drained pasta to the skillet and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Toss quickly to combine. Drizzle another 1/2 cup reserved pasta water over the pasta and stir well to coat all of the pasta in the cheese sauce. Scatter the pecorino over the pasta and drop in the knob of butter, tossing everything together until butter and cheese melt, creating a light, creamy, cheese sauce. Add the arugula and stir until it wilts, 2 to 3 minutes. If a thinner, lighter consistency for the sauce is desired, incorporate the additional reserved pasta water. Serve with more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, if desired.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

We loved how fast this cacio e pepe with pancetta and arugula came together. After a busy day out we had dinner ready in just a short time with pretty much pantry staples. We liked the salty bites of pancetta, the creaminess of the sauce (which was amazing since there’s no cream or milk involved), and the peppery bite of the arugula. One taster found the sauce a bit salty but it was fine for the rest of us. With a crisp white wine and a light salad, this made a very satisfying meal. We can't wait to try this recipe with asparagus or again with arugula.

I used gemelli. And it only took 15 minutes hands-on time since another family member grated the cheese while I prepared the other ingredients.

This cacio e pepe with pancetta and arugula is an outstanding dish with great method and results. It’s simple and elegant. The recipe provides a great template, the takeaway being how lovely the pepper brings out flavor and of course using the pasta water to get a sauce with the perfect flow and freshness.

Use a curly, interesting pasta with extra texture on the edges. If you can’t find the exact one pictured, use a similar shape like Toscani or even a helical-spiral of Cavatappi. You can save a little time grating on the larger holes rather than the extra-fine Microplane although the cheese will just take a moment longer in the pan to melt.

Get your pasta going (heat the water while you’re prepping your ingredients) and don’t start the pancetta too soon as it will quickly crisp. The pasta holds better than pancetta. But it you find the pancetta ahead of the pasta, just pull the pan off the burner for a few minutes so you don’t over-brown your beautiful pancetta and put it back on the heat when the pasta is drained. Once you bloom the pepper, proceed with the recipe as written and the arugula will wilt perfectly, also making you feel slightly virtuous with such a healthy and delicious upgrade to weeknight pasta.

In-a-hurry method? If you only had some baby spinach instead of arugula, that would swap in perfectly. We made a half recipe for two of us, fully intending to be good and set some aside for leftovers, but the temptation was too great and there was none left!

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