Cacio e Pepe Spaghetti (Cheese and Pepper). A pasta dish that is an ode to simplicity and Italian Cuisine. It is hard to understand how two ingredients can make such a great pasta.
What is the difference between Cacio and Formaggio?
Yes, you might be thinking: Isn't formaggio the word for Cheese in Italian? The answer is YES!
Cacio is a synonym for il Formaggio: both words mean cheese in Italian; We can use both as the word cacio comes from the Latin word caseus, which is usually translated simply as cheese. So now you might be thinking of casein… and yes, you are right!
The Roman Dish: an Italian favorite
Nothing more and nothing less than cheese and black pepper, simplicity in a dish!
It is not by chance that it became such a staple of Italian Cuisine. Yes, you might say, yes, cheese, of course, who doesn't like cheese, but it is quite an admirable skill to make such a glorious sauce out of only cheese and pepper.
You will make a perfect yet simple dish that will amaze all your family or guests from today.
I owe this dish to Rome's recent visit, where we spent both Christmas and New Year's Eve. So I made it a couple of times and had it in real Roman Trattorias to ensure I hit the sweet spot and used the right pasta.
The authentic cacio e pepe recipe has only 3 ingredients.
- Spaghetti thick Spaghetti Nº5 or Nº7 of fresh Tonnarelli
- Pecorino Romano cheese
- Black peppercorns
See quantities and complete instructions in the recipe card.
The key here is a technique; in fact, you need to know a few tricks to make a truly unique, creamy, and perfectly made Cacio e Pepe. It is not difficult, but the importance is in the details.
- Crush. Pound the whole peppercorns with the pestle and mortar.
- Toast crushed peppercorns. Transfer the crushed pepper to a large skillet, which will contain all the pasta to finish cooking.
- Boil water in a large pot. In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil, and add some coarse salt. Then add the spaghetti to the large pot of salted water.
- Mix pepper and water on medium heat. After a couple of minutes of cooking the pasta, when the white foam, which is nothing more than starch, begins to emerge in the cooking water, transfer a couple of spoons of boiling water from the pot into the pan, pepper, and let the pepper melt slightly.
- Stir in the grated cheese. Combine the grated pecorino in a glass bowl and add a little water until you get a consistent paste.
- Drain the pasta. Two minutes before the end of cooking, drain the spaghetti and use kitchen tongs to transfer the pasta to the pan with the pepper finish cooking the spaghetti by adding, if necessary, another ladle of reserved pasta water.
- Cool down. When the spaghetti is cooked al dente, remove the pan from the heat and cool for just about ten seconds. At this point, add the pecorino creamy sauce and whisk, skipping the spaghetti and stirring quickly. You will see that magically; a nice cream will form to wrap your spaghetti evenly.
- Serve on the plates while still hot, creamy, and with a nice load of pepper.
Of course, since we live in Italy, we have access to fresh pasta, so we tried it both with thick fresh Tonnarelli and dry pasta. The result is the same in terms of flavor. However, you will experience a change in the texture. So try to go for fresh thick Spaghetti, Dry Spaguetti Nº 7, Tornarelli, or bucatini pasta.
For measures, use 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of pasta per person, half the quantity of cheese, and half a tablespoon of black pepper.
To make spaghetti cacio e pepe you can use some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to get a similar resource. Store-bought grated parmesan works too; just make sure to get a good quality cheese.
Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. When ready to eat, stir the pasta in a bowl over medium heat with a splash of water for 3 minutes or simply use the microwave.
What to serve with cacio e pepe
Cacio e pepe is a fatty dish, so you should try to pair it with a salad, a lighter "contorno", or a side dish such as Romanesco Broccoli, simply sauteed with garlic pepperoncini, and extra virgin olive oil.
Alternatively, you can have it with some roman style artichokes or these fantastic artichokes with dipping sauce.Jump to Recipe
Cacio e Pepe wine pairing
Wine Pairing by our Sommelier Ramón Barreiro @pejo_barreiro
It is in the Wine Culture where you will genuinely find quality wines and support sustainability. For this reason, in this blog, when we recommend wines, we do not want you to go to a supermarket shelf to buy wines for the usual varietals resulting from monoculture. Instead, we recommend wines take you to the places where they come from. Thus, we advocate for living wines, with Culture, with Terroir.
Is there anything better than eating with cheese? This spaghetti recipe is one of the simplest and also tastiest in the Italian cookbook—cheese and pepper, nothing more.
The spaghetti is then a vehicle for the cheese's flavor, reinforced by the peppery and slightly spicy touch of the black pepper.
The pairing for this dish is relatively simple; of course, overcoming a slight obstacle is a prevalent conviction that red wines accompany cheeses. Furthermore, with a few exceptions, it is a complete mistake.
The cheeses have acidic notes, fermentation flavors that remind us of nuts and spices, herbaceous and floral aromas, and sometimes citrus notes… Are you beginning to notice where these aromas and flavors lead us? To white wine!
Pecorino Romano is a relatively robust hard cheese, and pepper highlights its spicy flavors. These characteristics suggest that our white wine should have something to compensate well for the dish's intense flavors.
A Selection of Three Wines
When choosing wines, if you live in a producing area, always choose local, find out about your producers, the history of your location, and the winemaking practices, and explore all the styles available in your area.
If you do not live in a producing area (or close to one of them), support the specialized stores near you, just as you would support your local farmers' market. Talk to the specialists, and ask them about their wine's selection, origins, production practices, and reasons for their inclusion in their selection.
With wine, as with any food on our table, it is always good to think about the path it went through before reaching us. It is also essential to consider the kilometers and the means of transportation used. Be aware of the carbon footprint of the food and wine you consume, and you will make a small contribution to sustainability.
The first pairing is a regional option. A wine from Campania, and one of the most elegant white wines in Italy, a Fiano di Avenillo, a bottle of dry wine with body and roundness on the palate, which evolves very well over time and will undoubtedly add notes of florals and dried fruits that will harmonize perfectly with Cacio e Pepe.
The second pairing is an international option from the New World. A Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County, California. This area produces some fantastic Chardonnays, dry, complex, and without those tropical notes that often characterize other Chardonnays from the American wine regions. This is probably my favorite option for the Cacio e Pepe.
The third pairing is the surprising one, the unexpected one. Here I return to fortified wines, this time in the Manzanilla style. Fino is the driest and freshest style of fortified wines, and at first glance, it looks like an ordinary young white wine. Still, when tasting this wine, you can see its particularity, aging under a veil of yeasts, the "veil of flower," which protects it from oxygen and gives its nutty and spicy well-defined flavors.
In this case, I recommend Manzanilla, which is made in the same style as the rest of the Finos de Jerez, with the difference of having a specific origin, the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. An always fun exercise is to taste the three styles of Finos de Jerez:
- the Fino itself from Jerez
- the Manzanilla from Sanlúcar and
- the Fino from Puerto de Santa María.
This is how we playfully do the pairing for the delicious Cacio e Pepe. Chin Chin!
Wine Pairing Recap
- Italian - Dry - Fiano di Avenillo
- Californian - Dry - Chardonnay
- Spanish - Dry - Sherry
More Italian Inspiration?
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Cacio e Pepe Spaghetti
- Crush. Start with the pepper, which must be strictly in grains. Collect the peppercorns in a mortar. Pound the peppercorns with the pestle and mortar. Do it vigorously and with a rotational rather than vertical motion. The pepper will be ready when it is reduced to a coarse powder. I like to leave some big pieces, so they explode in my mouth as I eat them, but just some.
- Toast crushed peppercorns. Transfer the crushed pepper to a big pan, which will contain all the pasta to finish cooking. Turn on the heat and let the pepper toast.
- Boil water. In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil, add some coarse salt and add the spaghetti.
- Mix pepper and water. After a couple of minutes of cooking the pasta, when the white foam, which is nothing more than starch, begins to emerge in the water, transfer a couple of spoons of boiling water from the pot into the pan pepper and let the pepper melt slightly.
- Stir in the cheese. Combine the pecorino in a glass bowl and add a little of the cooking liquid at a time until you get a sort of consistent paste. We used 100% pecorino romano; those who do not like the too-strong flavor of pecorino will be able to break it up with ground Parmesan. What’s important here is that the Parmesan is also aged enough because it will tend to make the ball and spin when you go to stir the dish if it is too fresh.
- Drain the pasta. Two minutes before the end of cooking, drain the spaghetti and transfer them to the pan with the pepper and finish cooking the spaghetti by adding, if necessary, another ladle of boiling water.14 ounces Spaghetti, 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- Cool down. When the spaghetti is cooked al dente, remove the pan from the heat and cool for just about ten seconds. At this point, add the pecorino mixture and whisk, skipping the spaghetti and stirring them quickly. You will see that magically; a nice cream will form to wrap your spaghetti evenly.
- Serve. At this point, you just have to serve the cheese and pepper on the plates, still hot and creamy, as well as a nice load of pepper.
- Italian - Dry - Fiano di Avenillo
- Californian - Dry - Chardonnay
- Spanish - Dry - Sherry
🌡️ Food safety
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C)
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food that previously touched raw meat
- Wash hands after touching raw meat
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking points to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice. See our full Nutritional Disclosure here.
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