Cacio e pepe is a very very simple dish which originally comes from Rome in Italy. The signification of the name is ‘cheese and pepper’ and that is exactly the two main ingredients. The trick is to use the pasta water which contains starch to melt the finely grated cheese and with the correct temperature you create a creamy sauce. Pure magic!
There are several ways of making the sauce. You can mix pasta water and cheese to a creamy sauce. Or you can mix water, pasta and cheese together. It is all about melting the cheese and avoiding big rubber lumps due to a wrong temperature. A tablespoon of butter is your helper in this process.
It sounds so easy and yet I found it a bit hard to make the perfect sauce by mixing hard cheese and pasta water. I did get the lumps. But every time I melt the cheese when mixed with pasta and pasta water, I succeed.
If you want to dig into the nerdy details, please read this wonderful article, which really goes into details with the dish and the method behind.
Or you can try my version of Cacio e pepe – see recipe below.
Cacio e pepe
ingredients (2 persons)
- 200 g / 7 oz dried spaghetti or an equivalent pasta type
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp butter
- 85 g / 3 oz pecorino sardo, finely grated
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- Boil the pasta until it is ‘two minutes before al dente’. Put aside 2 1/2 dl / 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta.
- While the pasta boils, toast the peppercorns on a hot, dry frying pan for a couple of minutes. Crush the peppercorns in a mortar.
- Melt the butter in a deep pan, add pepper and mix. Stir in half of the water you set aside. Add the boiled pasta and mix.
- Add the cheese and stir until it is melted. Add more water if you need more sauce.
- Sprinkle with thyme and serve immediately.
A few words about the cheese
Originally, this dish was made with pecorino romano. It is quite salty and sharp which brings character to the dish. I have used pecorino sardo, another sheep milk cheese which also has a lot of taste but is more balanced in my opinion. You may also use parmigiano reggiano, grana padano or another matured cheese which can be grated finely.
Think about the cheese as you would do with spices – which taste of cheese do you want in the final dish?