What could be faster than mac and cheese? Your very own Cacio e Pepe, of course. Literally consisting of pasta, pecorino romano cheese and cracked black pepper, it’s the sophisticated take on mac and cheese for adults that you’ve been waiting for.
So this week we tried an Italian recipe that is going to BLOW your cheese-loving minds.
(Assuming you are as massive lovers of cheese as we are. You ARE, aren’t you??)
Now, this recipe comes to you by way of our good friend Stefan. We first caught up in Venice at our friend Beppe’s apartment (and you might remember both of them from this little recipe-fail known as How NOT To Make all’Amatriciana).
As it turns out, Cacio e Pepe has sorta/kinda a few similar techniques to all’Amatriciana, but this time there was no Beppe around to throw his chaotic little spanners in the works! 😛 😛 😛
So what little knacks do you need to know to get it juuuust riiiight?
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According to Stefan, you’ll only need to buy three ingredients to make Cacio e Pepe – pasta, pecorino romano cheese and cracked black pepper.
The fourth ingredient is reserving some of the water from cooking the pasta; its starchy-goodness is essential to bind your creamy cheesy emulsified sauce with the pasta.
Okay, are you listening? Here’s what you need to know:
- Reserve about half a cup of cooking water from your pasta and let it COOL DOWN before you mix in the cheese. Lukewarm should be perfect. Otherwise, the cheese will coagulate and turn into gummy lumps and watery casein proteins, and we don’t want that at all.
- Then, mix your finely grated cheese with a dash of cooking water. Don’t just plonk it all on top of your cooked spaghetti and hope the magic will happen. 😉
- Cook your pasta al dente for the tastiest experience, and let it rest for at least 30 seconds to cool down before adding to your cheesy sauce.
- After that you can pop your cheesy sauce and pasta into a separate bowl or skillet so it’s not too hot, and thereby avoid that clumpy mess of gummy cheese).
- Mix and toss until your pasta is evenly coated in creamy, cheese-sauce gold, then sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper. (And if you want even MORE peppery goodness, you can gently dry-fry the pepper first to release a more intense flavour).
Now, from our own little Cacio e Pepe experiments, we’ve learned you might be tempted to add more cheese when you’re coating the pasta in the sauce, especially if there’s seems to be a little liquid left over in the bottom.
We found a few other recipes that suggested adding more cheese at this step, but for us, this just led to a big old pile of gummy cheese. (Which is still delicious, not gonna lie, but not exactly the lusciously creamy cheesy saucy experience we’re going for with Cacio e Pepe.)
So! We recommend staying strong and avoiding the temptation at this point. Later on you can satisfy your cravings for ALL THE CHEESE by adding more as a garnish to your final plate. 😉
Cacio e Pepe (Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano & Black Pepper)
Cacio e Peppe is all about the sharpness of pecorino romano cheese and the prickly, warming spice of cracked black pepper. It’s like a sophisticated take on mac and cheese you can serve to your adult friends. 😛
The tradition goes that this recipe was born in the pastures of Lazio, Italy, where local shepherds would tuck into plates of homemade pasta with pecorino cheese and cracked black pepper to keep warm during the winter.
So now you know how to make Cacio e Pepe, you too can enjoy all the goodness of mac and cheese with the self-respecting sophistication of a mature adult.
And as you can probably tell, we’re in love with Italian cuisine, so if you’re down with that too you should definitely check out a few more goodies like Marta’s Rustic Pork & Beef Ragu or our epic Italian Dry Salt Roast Chicken.
Stay saucy people. 😉
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- 100g spaghetti
- 1 cup pecorino romano cheese, very finely grated (+ extra for garnish)
- 1-2 tbsp pasta water from cooking
- 1-2 tsp cracked black pepper
- Okay now, let’s start by bringing a large pot of water to the boil. Pop in your pasta then quicky throw in a generous pinch of salt to bring it quickly back to the boil. Cook your pasta al dente according to packet directions.
- While it's cooking, scoop out ½ to 1 cup of pasta water and allow it to cool down to lukewarm. Then drain your pasta and set aside to cool slightly.
- Pop your finely grated cheese into a large mixing bowl, then add in a tbsp of pasta water and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth, creamy, cheesy sauce. You’re looking for a semi-thick texture like bechamel sauce, because extra liquid from the cooked pasta will make it runnier later on.
- Now add the pasta into the bowl of cheese and use a fork and spoon to thoroughly mix until your pasta is evenly coated. Sprinkle with black pepper and give it an extra stir.
- Aftet that, transfer to serving plates or bowls then garnish with extra cheese and as much cracked black pepper as your heart and tastebuds desire.
- Now go and enjoy your fancy mac and cheese like the proper sophisticated adult you are. 😉