Literally, Cacio e Pepe means cheese and pepper. That’s all you need to make a deliciously satisfying pasta dish. Adding a couple of tablespoons of butter doesn’t hurt either.
I learned about this pasta when I was preparing for my Rome trip last summer. Rick Steve’s Italy travel guide mentions Bucatini all’amatriciana and Cacio e Pepe as two of Rome’s most iconic dishes. On the last night of my trip, I found the most amazing Cacio e Pepe at a local hot spot, just a couple blocks away from my hotel. I was blown away by the intensity of the flavors and the simplicity of the dish. Needless to say, I didn’t want to share my plate.
This dish very simple and easy to make. You can totally impress friends, family, and dinner dates with this. I found all the ingredients at Trader Joe’s. The cheeses can be a little pricey, but you only need a little pit. Trader Joe’s sells them by the weight. Just look for the smallest portion. I had plenty of leftover cheese.
I’m afraid to order this in restaurants back home for fear it will spoil my perfect memory of the dish. I’m happy to have found a recipe that replicates the dish. All that is missing is the ambiance and romance of Rome. To compensate, serve this dish over a candlelit dinner with some soft music in the background. Make tiramisu for dessert. And be sure to invite me over.
Cacio e Pepe, adapted from Martha Stewart Living Feb 2013
8 oz spaghetti
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 oz Grana Padano cheese, grated, about 1 1/4 cup
3 tsp freshly ground black pepper, more to taste if desired
1 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, a rounded 1/4 cup
1/2 cup salted pasta water
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1. Generously salt a large pot of water. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook very al dente, about 2-3 minutes less than the pasta package instructions. (You will continue to cook the pasta in the skillet as you make the sauce.) Before you drain the cooked pasta, reserve 1 cup of pasta water.
2. Transfer drained pasta to a large skillet (12-inch non-stick is best). Add the butter and 1/2 cup of pasta water. Heat over medium heat until water starts to simmer. Reduce heat to low and add in Grana Padano and black pepper. Toss and stir pasta and cheese together. As the cheese melts continue to toss pasta with tongs and evenly coat it with sauce. Continue to heat until sauce slightly thickens and pasta is cooked.
3. Remove from heat. Toss in Pecorino Romano. If pasta looks dry, add a little more pasta water, a tablespoon at a time until the pasta looks glossy. Drizzle with high quality olive oil and garnish with more freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.