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This Cacio e Pepe recipe makes the perfect creamy, cozy dish of that classic Roman “cheese and pepper” pasta!

Cacio e pepe

There’s something intoxicating about this shallow bowl of steaming pasta covered in salty, creamy sauce, black pepper and fluffy bits of Pecorino Cheese. Yes, it’s cacio e pepe, that famous Roman pasta that’s blown up in world-wide popularity. Years ago, we tasted a bowl on a trip to Rome, Italy that was so divine we never wanted it to end. Anthony Bourdain once said that cacio e pepe “could be the greatest thing in the history of the world”: and we’re inclined to agree with him. Turns out, this pasta is beyond simple to whip up at home: it’s got a short ingredient list and takes just minutes to whip up. Here’s our spin on this Italian classic!

What is cacio e pepe?

Cacio e pepe is a Roman pasta dish that translates to “cheese and pepper,” referring the simple sauce made of Pecorino Romano cheese and pepper. The sauce is made simply with hot pasta water and freshly grated cheese, which combine to form a luscious, creamy coating to the pasta noodles. According to legend, the dish was invented by shepherds who needed a simple meal with easy to carry staple ingredients. The modern Cacio e pepe was likely invented in the 1800’s, when eating pasta became popular in Rome.

Cacio e pepe

Ingredients in cacio e pepe

Restaurants in Rome each have their own version of cacio e pepe, and we’ve been lucky enough to sample quite a few (we prefer the version at Roscioli if you’re planning a trip!). Here’s what you’ll need for this spin on the classic:

  • Spaghetti or bucatini pasta: Spaghetti is most traditional. We also like bucatini (pictured), which is like hollow spaghetti
  • Pecorino Romano cheese: This sharp, salty aged cheese is what carries the flavor of cacio e pepe. There’s absolutely no substitute for it! Try to buy it in a block if you can (see below).
  • Parmesan cheese: Using this secondary, ore popular cheese helps to round out the flavors. Don’t want to buy two cheeses? Substitute more Pecorino (it’s just as authentic).
  • Butter: This extra ingredient helps the sauce to come together.
  • Black pepper: A generous helping of pepper rounds out the dish.

Tips for cooking pasta to al dente

With cacio e pepe and any Italian pasta recipe, it’s important to cook the pasta to the perfect al dente. Al dente means “to the bite” in Italian: pasta that’s tender with a firm center. Overcooked pasta turns out rubbery and unappetizing. Interestingly, it also has less nutrients and makes you less full. Here’s how to cook pasta to al dente:

  • Set your timer a few minutes before the package instructions indicate. Often, the timing on the pasta package makes overcooked pasta. Start taste testing a few minutes before the package says to.
  • Look for small white fleck at the core. You want to catch it right when there’s a small white fleck at the core, or just as it disappears. Move quickly: there’s no remedy for overcooked pasta!
Cacio e pepe recipe

How to make cacio e pepe (with a smooth sauce)

The biggest issue you’ll find with a homemade cacio e pepe recipe? The sauce comes out clumpy and globby. The sauce is made with hot pasta water, and often when you add the cheese and stir it will glob to the spoon and the pasta instead of integrating into a smooth sauce. Here are a few ways to ensure a creamy sauce:

  • Freshly grate the cheese from a block instead of buying grated. Buy blocks of Pecorino Romano and Parmesan cheese and grate them yourself. Pre-grated cheese can contain anti-caking agents and additives that can make the cheese stick together instead of incorporating into a creamy sauce.
  • Don’t drain the pasta: transfer it to the sauce using tongs. Add any pasta water that clings to the noodles right into the sauce.
  • Add additional pasta water and keep stirring. If it starts to clump, add additional pasta water and keep stirring until the cheese incorporates.
Cacio e pepe

What to serve alongside

With such a simple pasta dish, you can go either pared back or elegant: either work! Here are a few Italian-style side dishes to serve with cacio e pepe:

What do you plan to serve it with? Let us know in the comments below.

More Italian pasta recipes

Love a great Italian-style pasta? Us too! Here are a few more great pasta recipes:

This cacio e pepe recipe is…


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Cacio e pepe

Cacio e Pepe

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x


This Cacio e Pepe recipe makes the perfect creamy, cozy dish of that classic Roman “cheese and pepper” pasta!


  • 12 ounces spaghetti or bucatini pasta
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese*
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese*


  1. Bring a salted pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente (taste testing a minute or two before the package instructions indicate). Don’t drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup pasta water.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until it melts, then turn the heat to low. Add the black pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese and Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of the hot pasta water. Stir until a thick paste forms, then remove from the heat and wait until the pasta is done.
  3. Right when pasta is al dente, transfer the pasta without draining it: use tongs to transfer it into the saucepan along with any pasta water clinging to the noodles. Add an additional ½ cup of pasta water and return the heat to low. Toss the pasta with the cheesy paste until a thick sauce forms, about 2 minutes. If the cheese starts to glob up, add more pasta water and continue to stir. Top with additional grated Pecorino cheese and serve hot.


*If you can, buy blocks of Pecorino Romano and Parmesan cheese and grate them yourself. Pre-grated cheese can contain anti-caking agents and additives that can make the cheese stick together instead of incorporating into a creamy sauce.

  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Keywords: Cacio e pepe, cacio e pepe recipe

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you’ll want to make again and again.

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  1. WOW. I just made this pasta (cacio e pepe) and was pretty blown away. I had seen this recipe before but could NOT imagine how it could be good with basically 2 ingredients. My husband even found the same pasta called for and we just finished eating. A winner for sure. The only thing I will change is a bit less pepper for me and I could have added more water to the pasta. And I will try again soon. I have just found your site and love what you do. Keep going. Thanks so much for a wonderful EASY dinner.

  2. I was super excited to try this. My husband’s three favorite things are pepper, cheese and pasta! It was delicious, despite the issues we had with some of the cheese clumping. I couldn’t find a block of romano cheese so I used the pre-shredded variety. We kept adding pasta water and stirring but it never fully resolved so we just removed the globs and added some more shredded cheese to the final dish. I’m going to keep trying to find the block of cheese.

  3. The cheese clumped badly even though we used Murray’s cheese shop block cheese and followed the recipe. My husband stirred it vigorously while adding more pasta water. Any other tips to avoid the cheese clumps?