Cacio e pepe sounds like a fancy Italian restaurant menu item, but it simply translates to cheese and pepper. It’s a classic, easy-to-make pasta that calls for only a handful of ingredients, just pasta, cheese, and black pepper. In this version, the sauce begins with unsalted butter that’s browned until golden and toasty. Then goes in freshly cracked black pepper, reserved pasta water, and Pecorino Romano cheese. The result is a silky sauce that’s nutty, cheesy, and peppery. It's the most indulgent 20-minute weeknight dinner.
How to Make the Tastiest, Creamiest Cacio e Pepe
- Instead of the recommended 4 to 5 quarts of water to cook 1 pound of dry pasta, I use 2 quarts (8 cups) of water. Cooking the pasta in less water gives you starchier pasta water. You'll use some of it to create the sauce. More starch means the sauce will be creamier.
- Watch your brown butter closely. It can go from perfectly golden to burnt quickly. If you sense that it will burn, quickly but carefully transfer the butter into a heat-proof bowl to stop it from further browning.
- Pre-shredded cheese contains drying agents to prevent clumping, which can interfere with it melting well. Grate your own cheese with the smallest holes on a box grater or a microplane for light, fluffy cheese shreds that melt evenly and quickly.
Use Bucatini or Any Long Pasta
Traditionally, a long pasta, like spaghetti, is used to make cacio e pepe. This recipe calls for bucatini, which is similar in length and thickness to spaghetti but has a hole in the middle. Bucatini is great at collecting sauce and getting coated with flavor inside out. You can use spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, or any long pasta. And if you’re feeling extra, try making it with fresh pasta—either store-bought or DIY.
A green salad and crusty bread are a no-fuss pairing for brown butter cacio e pepe. You can also serve this as a side (think: rustic mac & cheese) with chicken and roasted broccoli.
I like to bring the pepper grinder to the table for anyone who would like a dusting of freshly ground black pepper. For even more flavor, top the cacio e pepe with toasted, chopped walnuts or a sprinkle of finely chopped herbs, such as parsley, basil, or thyme.
Pasta in Under 30 Minutes
Brown Butter Cacio e Pepe
8 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 pound dry bucatini
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more for serving
4 ounces finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 2 cups)
Cook the pasta:
In a large pot, bring 8 cups water and the salt to a boil. This may feel like it’s not enough water, but it is! After you cook the pasta, the water will be concentrated with starch, which you’ll use to thicken the sauce.
Cook the pasta until al dente, following package instructions. Use a measuring cup or ladle to reserve 2 cups of pasta cooking water. Then, drain the pasta into a colander set in the sink.
Brown the butter:
While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large high-sided skillet set over medium heat. The butter will get foamy on top. Stir it continuously with a rubber spatula. In 2 to 4 minutes, (timing depends on how hot your skillet is) you’ll see brown bits form on the bottom of the skillet and the butter will smell nutty. Reduce the heat to low.
Make the sauce:
Immediately, stir the black pepper into the brown butter and cook for 30 seconds to enhance its flavor. Carefully whisk in 1 cup of the reserved pasta water and cook for about 1 minute. Add the grated Pecorino Romano, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly until the cheese is melted and the sauce looks smooth and creamy.
Toss and serve:
Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss to combine. If sauce looks dry, add more pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, until it evenly coats the pasta and looks creamy. Serve with extra ground black pepper, if you’d like.
Transfer leftovers into an airtight storage container and store in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Reheat leftovers on the stovetop or in the microwave. Add a splash of water to help loosen the sauce.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 23g||29%|
|Saturated Fat 14g||71%|
|Total Carbohydrate 25g||9%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||4%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|