This Cacio e Pepe is a classic Italian pasta dish! Bucatini pasta is tossed in a buttery cheese sauce and flavored with plenty of freshly ground black pepper!
Don’t let the fancy name of cacio e pepe fool you. This recipe is actually insanely easy to make and really freaking delicious. It has the taste of grown up buttered noodles or mac and cheese, but it’s just as easy to make. We’re talkin’ 4 ingredients people!
You’re gonna love it.
What is cacio e pepe?
Cacio e Pepe, or cheese and pepper, is a classic Italian pasta dish made up of bucatini pasta tossed in a creamy cheese sauce with freshly ground black pepper.
That’s it! It really is just pasta, cheese, and pepper! Super simple and so delicious!
What is the difference between cacio e pepe and alfredo?
Cacio e Pepe is a traditional Italian dish made with bucatini noodles tossed in a sauce of pasta water, butter, cheese, and black pepper.
Alfredo, on the other hand, is an Italian-American dish made with fettuccine noodles and tossed in a cheese sauce made with parmesan, heavy cream, and butter.
Alfredo is much thicker and usually saucier, giving the sauce a larger role in the dish. Cacio e Pepe is thinner, lighter, and is focused more on the finding the perfect balance between sauce and pasta.
Who knew such a simple ingredient list could come together to form such a decadent, flavorful pasta dish?
- Bucatini – a long, spaghetti-like pasta that’s hollow in the middle, perfect for soaking up cream sauces.
- Unsalted Butter – adds warmth, richness, and a luxurious creamy texture.
- Pecorino Romano Cheese – the “cacio” of the dish — a salty, tangy, delicious cheese that melts with the butter to create a creamy cheese sauce.
- Black Pepper – the “pepe” of the recipe. Gives the pasta dish a little kick. Use as much or as little as you like.
How to make
- Cook pasta al dente according to box directions in a large stockpot of salted water. Once cooked, drain the pasta but reserve the pasta water.
- In the same stockpot, melt butter then whisk in 1 cup of pasta water, cheese, and black pepper until smooth.
- Place the pasta back in the pot and use tongs to combine.
- Add in additional pasta water to thin, if necessary, until a cream sauce forms then serve with more pepper and enjoy!
What pasta to use
Traditional Cacio e Pepe is made with bucatini pasta which is a long, thin noodle similar to spaghetti but slightly thicker and hollow in the center.
I highly recommend using bucatini if you can find it because it’s perfect for soaking up the delicious cheese sauce. However, if you can’t find bucatini spaghetti will work as well.
What cheese to use
Classic Cacio e Pepe is made using Pecorino Romano cheese which is Italian Romano cheese made from sheep’s milk. It adds a delicious cheesy, tangy, salty flavor.
Often times in the US you’ll find the American version made using cow’s milk but either variety works! If you can’t find Pecorino Romano, trying substituting equal amounts with parmesan or asiago.
Why does my cacio e pepe clump?
Nobody wants a clumpy cheese sauce right? Here are a couple of reasons as to why yours might have come out that way!
- The cheese pieces were too large. Make sure you’re using finely grated cheese and use your fingers to break up any clumps before melting them in the stockpot.
- You didn’t whisk enough. Whisk constantly when you’re mixing in your water, cheese, and pepper.
- You didn’t work quickly enough. Work with hot pasta, hot pasta water, and a hot stockpot.
- You let it sit too long. After you’ve tossed your pasta in the sauce with tongs, serve immediately!
What to serve with cacio e pepe
Cacio e Pepe is a delicious, light pasta dish perfect alongside a number of different sides! Here are a few ideas.
- Side Salad with Italian Dressing
- Zuppa Toscana
- Air Fryer Chicken Thighs
- Garlic Bread
How to store
This is best served immediately, but store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. I don’t recommend freezing it because the texture will be affected. The fresher the better!
To reheat, microwave or heat on the stovetop with a splash of water for thinning out. Serve again with an extra sprinkle of black pepper!
Cacio e Pepe
Equipment for this recipe
- 1 (12 oz) box bucatini
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 (5 oz) container finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese ensure there are no large chunks to avoid a clumpy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste
- Cook pasta al denté according to box directions in a large stockpot of salted water.
- Drain but reserve the pasta water.
- Melt butter in the hot stockpot.
- Whisk in 1 cup pasta water, cheese, and black pepper until smooth.
- Place hot pasta back into the hot stockpot.
- Use tongs to toss to combine.
- Add in additional pasta water, if necessary (I didn’t need any), until a cream sauce forms and coats the pasta evenly.
- Taste and re-season with more pepper, if desired.
- Serve and enjoy!
- Take 5 seconds to rate this recipe below. We greatly appreciate it!
*Note: Nutrition information is estimated and varies based on products used.