If ever a dish has fully proved that simple is best, it’s cacio e pepe. Meaning ‘cheese and pepper,’ that’s pretty much all it is, but when done right it’s an impossibly delicious and creamy pasta. It’s one of those situations where it’s all about technique – it only takes three ingredients, but when you combine them correctly, magic happens.
While this dish is really just pasta, cheese, and pepper, it’s not a matter of just grating some cheese over the noodles and calling it a day. It’s all about technique. What you’ll want to do is combine the grated cheeses and a generous tablespoon of black pepper in a bowl while the pasta is boiling. Then, you’ll add just enough cold water to mash the cheese into a nice paste and spread it around the bowl. (This is the key to creaminess without building a separate sauce, I promise.)
Once the pasta is cooked, you add it to the bowl of cheese paste and working quickly, ladle in about a cup of pasta cooking water. And then you stir quickly and vigorously until the cheese has melted and the pasta is coated in all that deliciousness. You can thin it out further with a touch of olive oil or a bit of pasta water, but it’s not always needed. You want it creamy and thin enough to cling to the pasta, but not watery.
And that’s it! That’s all you do. Simple as can be and delicious as can be too.
Cacio e Pepe
This is how you get it right, every single time.
Serves 4; 5 minutes to prepare, 10 minutes cook time
- 1 1/2 cups pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
- 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
- 1 lb bucatini, spaghetti, or linguine pasta
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Olive oil, as needed
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- In a large bowl, combine the cheeses and about a tablespoon of black pepper. Mash, while adding just enough cold water to form a thick paste. Spread the paste evenly around the bowl.
- Once water has come to a boil, add pasta. Just before it's perfectly cooked, use tongs to quickly transfer to bowl. Reserve about a cup of the cooking water.
- Stir vigorously to coat the pasta in the cheese, adding a teaspoon or so of olive oil and a bit of the reserved pasta water to thin the paste if needed. The sauce should become creamy and cling to the pasta, but not be watery.
- Serves with additional black pepper and cheese. Enjoy!
Recipe adapted from NY Times Cooking.