Cacio e Pepe Macaroni and Cheese marries the uber simple but powerfully flavored classic Italian pasta with everybody’s favorite comfort food ~ delish!
I promise you won’t regret making this easy mac & cheese recipe! Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) is one of the most elemental of all pasta dishes, and if you love the earthy spicy flavor of cracked black pepper like I do, you’re going to flip over this. This simple Roman meal is sexy, satisfying, and so good it’s been around for centuries. The original is made with Romano cheese, pepper, and pasta, that’s it! The starch from the cooking water mixes with the cheese and makes a silky sauce. But the real star is the black pepper, it’s such a common, every day spice that it’s easy to forget how amazing it is.
Just take a handful of good peppercorns in your palm and inhale ~ the aroma is intoxicating.
For this cacio e pepe recipe I use a minimum of 1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper. I’ll sprinkle more on as I go. PLEASE crack it yourself from the whole peppercorns, the flavor will be far superior. I sometimes use my spice grinder to do the job, it’s quicker than the pepper mill when you’re grinding in bulk.
I stir the pepper right into the milk as I heat it on the stove, so the pepper has a chance to infuse into my cream sauce. I keep the recipe simple, in keeping with the minimalist cacio e pepe theme. I use evaporated milk for a creamy texture without extra fat, and a convenient bagged blend of Italian cheese. The evaporated milk works great to ensure a thick sauce without having to make a flour and butter roux. I ladle the mac & cheese right into a oven safe pan or gratin dish to bake it off. It only takes 20 minutes. You can do it all in one, or in individual dishes.
I like to use the corkscrew shaped cavatappi pasta, because it’s nice and chewy, and really catches that cheese sauce. I think it’s the perfect shape for an adult mac and cheese like this.
Sometimes I’ll top it with more cheese and sometimes, like today, I’ll add a toasted breadcrumb and cheese topping, just for a little bit of crunch. But whatever you do, don’t forget a final shower of just cracked pepper before you dig in.
I don’t like to be pushy, but just make this. :) And when you’ve finished with this one, I highly recommend moving on to my BRUSSELS SPROUT CARBONARA for another uber comfy and delicious pasta recipe. Or my LEMONY FETTUCCINE ALFREDO…both are classic Italian pasta recipes with a fun twist.
- 2/3 pound macaroni, I used cavatappi
- 16 ounces evaporated milk
- 1 Tbsp coarsely cracked black pepper (plus more to taste)
- 8 ounce bag of grated Italian Blend cheese, I used Sargento
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used the good stuff, Parmesan-Reggiano)
- salt if necessary, taste first
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
- fresh parsley, chopped
- Set oven to 350F
- Make the breadcrumb topping first. Heat the butter in a small skillet and stir in the breadcrumbs. Cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Take off the heat, mix in the cheese, and set aside.
- Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water until just shy of al dente, I cook it 2 minutes short of what the package says. Drain and rinse with cold water so it stops cooking. Set aside.
- Put the evaporated milk in a large saucepan along with the cracked pepper. Bring the mixture up to a simmer, then take off the heat and add the Italian blend cheese, and the grated Parmesan. Stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Put it back on the heat briefly if necessary to get everything melted. Taste and add salt if needed, you probably won't need any.
- Add the macaroni to the cheese sauce and stir well. Turn the mixture into a single baking dish, or individual oven safe dishes.
- Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top, cover with foil, and bake for 20 minutes, or until hot and bubbling.
- Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped parsley and more fresh cracked pepper.
- Romano is the traditional cheese for the original cacio e pepe recipe, but you can use any cheese you like. I like the ease of the bagged Italian blend cheese because it’s already grated and ready to dump right in. An 8 ounce bag is just the right amount, 2 cups.
- For other inventive twists on the classic Italian cheese and pepper sauce, try this Cacio e Pepe Spaghetti Squash, and this Roasted Cauliflower Cacio e Pepe!