One of the most spectacular dishes I’ve eaten in Rome is also one of the easiest to reproduce at home. How often does that happen? I have been obsessed with Cacio e Pepe ever since I saw Anthony Bourdain passionately slurping from a bowl of it in the Rome episode of No Reservations, even saying the dish “could be the greatest thing in the history of the world.” It was the first pasta dish I ate on my first trip to Rome, and I “got it” at first bite. Such a simple dish on the face of it—just oil, butter, pepper, and cheese—but it’s so aromatic, luscious, and rich. It’s creamy and intriguingly spicy but not in the way you’re used to. It’s mac and cheese for grownups, the perfect hangover food, the thing I’d probably ask for as my last meal.
Although eating Cacio e Pepe at home may not have the same charm as enjoying it on a terrace in the heart of Rome, it sure is great to fix such a satisfying plate of food in so little time. Here are a few tricks you should know to help you create a great version of the dish:
- Divide the freshly ground black pepper. Half of it should be sautéed in oil at the beginning of the process and half of it should be added at the end. Doing so creates two different flavors: the sautéed pepper creates a deeper, slightly smoky heat, while the fresh pepper added at the end adds the more familiar, aromatic peppery kick.
- Grate the cheese using a very fine grater such as a Microplane. The finer the cheese is, the quicker it will melt, which is important as the sauce comes together in seconds at the end. You want the cheese to melt into the pasta water and fat quickly so it emulsifies instantly. If the cheese is grated coarsely, the sauce may not come together at all and the cheese will start sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Cook the pasta in a skillet using less water. Doing so concentrates the starch released in the water by the pasta. This is important because you will be using the water to create the silky sauce. If the water is starchier, the sauce will be creamier and have more body. You can use regular pasta and drain the excess water, but I’ve recently started using Barilla’s Pronto Half-Cut Spaghetti, which makes the process even faster. You start the pasta in cold water and you don’t even have to drain it. I just add a little more water than required so some remains at the end of the cooking time to create the sauce—so handy, you’d think the pasta was created to make Cacio e Pepe.
- Use quality cheese. Cheese is front and center in this dish, so choose top quality, preferably aged Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses. You should ideally buy wedges of the cheeses and grate them yourself so they melt more quickly (pre-grated cheeses tend to be dryer and they take more time to melt). Also, please, please! No shelf-stable “parmesan” cheese in this dish.
I like to serve Cacio e Pepe with a side of veggies, and I usually do broccoli because it broils in the exact time the pasta comes together. You can skip it, of course, and just indulge in your new favorite pasta dish. I won’t judge.
Makes 2 servings.
5 minPrep Time
10 minCook Time
15 minTotal Time
Heat the olive oil and 1 tsp [5 ml] coarsely ground black pepper in a 10 inch [25 cm] pan over medium-low heat until the oil shimmers, the peppercorns are fragrant and just starting to sizzle. Add the butter and use a spatula to move and melt it into the oil. Add the dried spaghetti pasta and 2 cups [500 ml] water, making sure the water completely covers the pasta. Crank up the heat to high and start a timer for 10 minutes (if you’re not using Barilla’s Pronto pasta, refer to the manufacturer’s cooking instructions). Let the pasta boil, moving it around from time to time using a spatula so it cooks evenly. Two minutes before the end of the cooking time, lower the heat to medium and keep an eye on the quantity of water leftover in the pan. You don’t want it to evaporate completely, so add up to ¼ cup [60 ml] water if the pan seems dry, tossing the pasta so the additional water distributes evenly and heats up as quickly as possible.
When the cooking time is done, lower the heat to the minimum, and add the grated cheese. Quickly toss and turn the pasta so the cheese melts into the sauce and coats the spaghetti strands. Remove from the heat and add a generous pinch or two of freshly ground black pepper. Divide between two warm serving bowls and serve immediately, sprinkled with additional cheese, black pepper, if desired.
Recipe Credit: Marie Asselin
Garlicky Broiled Broccoli
If you plan on serving the pasta with this broiled broccoli, prepare it before you start making the pasta dish. Once cooked, the pasta can’t wait, but the broccoli can.
2 cups broccoli, cut into slender florets
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tsbp [15 ml] olive oil
Flaky sea salt
Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Turn the oven on to broil and let it heat about 5 minutes. Line a baking sheet with aluminum paper and coat with cooking spray.
Place the broccoli florets in a bowl, then sprinkle in the minced garlic and drizzle on the olive oil. Mix thoroughly to coat the florets evenly. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of sea salt and toss again.
Transfer to the baking sheet and broil for 8 minutes. After 4 minutes, turn the broccoli florets so they broil all around. Once done, the broccoli will be crisp tender with charred bits. Remove from the oven and keep warm until ready to serve.
This post was created in partnership with Barilla. I love pasta and I’ve truly fallen for their new Pronto product line. Pronto pasta are made to cook quickly, in a single pan, no water pre-boiling or draining required. It makes weeknight meals so easy–and I’m so grateful that their Pronto Half-Cut Spaghetti makes it even easier to create my favorite pasta dish! For more information about Barilla’s Pronto pasta and more recipe ideas, make sure to visit their website at Barilla.ca.
Barilla has offered me monetary compensation to develop a delicious recipe using their product. As always, companies never dictate what recipes I create, or the opinions I express. I only use products I genuinely believe in–and I have been Barilla has been my preferred brand of dry pasta for years. For more information about sponsored posts, please read my Disclosure Policy. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Food Nouveau running!