Cacio e Pepe: Italian comfort food

When I studied abroad in Siena during the summer of 2015, this dish was my go-to dinner when eating out. It translates to “cheese and pepper,” and it’s the Italian version of mac ‘n cheese. AKA the best comfort food you’ll come across.

In Siena, Cacio e Pepe was made with Pici pasta–a special kind of thick spaghetti that’s really only made in the region. It’s also typically made with Pecorino Romano, a strong sheep’s milk cheese. If you want a bit of a more mild taste, substitute 2/3 of the amount you need with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and it’ll still taste great.

It’s important to have finely grated cheese for a smooth sauce. Large shreds will clump together. Also, don’t drain that pasta water! You’ll need some of it for the sauce.

Maybe summer is the time for light, fresh, citrusy recipes, which this dish is absolutely not. But it’s also the time for trying out new things, so get to it!

recipe from

Cacio e Pepe

What you’ll need:

  • 4 tablespoons (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound (225g) spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons (15g) unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1 cup; 55g), very finely grated on a Microplane or the smallest holes of a box grater, plus more for serving

    Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil and about a teaspoon of black pepper in a medium skillet over medium-low heat until ingredients are fragrant and pepper is barely starting to sizzle, about 1 minute. Set aside

    Place spaghetti in a large skillet and cover with water. Season with a small pinch of salt, then bring to a boil over high heat, prodding spaghetti occasionally with a fork or wooden spoon to prevent it from clumping. Cook until spaghetti is al dente (typically about 1 minute less than the package recommends). Transfer 2 to 3 tablespoons of pasta cooking water to the skillet with the olive oil/pepper mixture. Stir in butter. Using tongs, lift spaghetti and transfer it to the oil/butter mixture.

    Add cheese and remaining tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and stir with a fork until cheese is completely melted. Add a few more tablespoons of pasta water to the skillet to adjust consistency, reheating as necessary until the sauce is creamy and coats each strand of spaghetti. Season to taste with salt and more black pepper. Serve immediately, passing extra grated cheese and black pepper at the table.


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