Dish of the Week: Cacio e Pepe

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re covering the stripped-down Italian favorite, Cacio e Pepe.

Literally meaning “cheese and pepper,” cacio e pepe is a Roman pasta dish made – as the name suggests – with just cracked black pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese. Long, thin pastas – like spaghetti, vermicelli or tonnarelli (a kind of square-like spaghetti) – are typically used.

The beauty of the stunner is in its simplicity, since the sauce is made with the same water that was used to cook the pasta. The hot, starchy water melts the sheep’s milk cheese and envelops the noodles, binding the ingredients and forming a rich, creamy and peppery sauce.

Cacio e pepe has been around for centuries, as it was a hearty staple for shepherds who spent months herding and could easily carry aged Pecorino, black pepper and pasta with them.

And it remains just as satisfying today.

This recipe, from Saveur, uses a mix of finely grated Pecorino Romano and Cacio de Roma – a semi-soft, one-month-aged sheep’s milk cheese from the Lazio region of Italy. It can be found at places like Spec’s, Whole Foods and Central Market, but feel free to use all Pecorino Romano if you'd like. The key here is to finely grate the cheese so that it melts with ease and forms a creamy, almost béchamel-like sauce.

Cacio e Pepe

Ingredients serves 4
Kosher salt, to taste
1 lb. pasta, preferably tonnarelli or spaghetti
4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
3/4 cup finely grated Cacio de Roma


Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta; cook until al dente, 8–10 minutes; reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add pepper; cook until fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Ladle 3/4 cup pasta water into skillet; bring to a boil. Using tongs, transfer pasta to skillet; spread it evenly.

Sprinkle 3/4 cup each Pecorino Romano and Cacio de Roma over pasta; toss vigorously to combine until sauce is creamy and clings to the pasta without clumping, about 2 minutes, adding some pasta water if necessary.

Transfer to 4 plates and sprinkle with remaining Pecorino and more pepper.
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Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano