Cacio e Pepe, or Cheese and Pepper Pasta, is a classic and ultra simple Italian dish that really illustrates what I love so much about Mediterranean food. This is lunch you can throw together from the pantry, assuming you keep a block to top quality hard cheese in the fridge at all times. You will love this one!
This pasta is a perfect example of uncomplicated, pared down food made with just a few ingredients. It’s a classic Italian dish made with pasta, black pepper, and cheese.
Wherever you find your best cheese, pick up a couple of hard Italian varieties like Pecorino or Parmigiana Reggiano. If you can find them, Grana Padano or Piave are other aged Italian grating cheeses. Aged Asiago would work as well. You can use a mixture for this dish, depending on what you find. Just keep in mind that you want to use a good quality Italian cheese. The nice thing is that once you invest in a chunk of one of these cheeses it lasts forever in your fridge. Just rewrap it tightly in waxed paper to store.
A good peppermill and a microplane grater are essential tools for this dish. The microplane will give you finely grated cheese that is perfect for melting. It also yields a very fluffy airy pile of cheese, which explains the 3-plus cups of cheese in the recipe. You want a pepper grinder that allows you to get a nice coarse grind.
My family gave this dish high marks. The pepper is surprisingly flavorful without being overpowering, and the cheese mixed with the pasta water makes a gorgeous creamy sauce.
- 12 oz of whole grain thin spaghetti (I like Barilla Plus)
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 tsp freshly cracked pepper
- 3 heaping cups finely grated Grana Padano, Pecorino, Piave, or Parmesan cheese (you might even want more depending on how fluffy your grated cheese is)
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- lots of fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Cook the spaghetti in plenty of salted water until just barely al dente. I usually shave off 3 minutes from the package directions.
- Heat the oil in a large pan and toast the black pepper for a couple of minutes over medium low heat.
- When the pasta is done, pull it out with tongs and into the pepper pan. A little of the cooking water will go along with the pasta.
- Add in the butter and lemon juice and toss thoroughly with the cheese, a handful at a time and tossing to coat the pasta evenly between each addition. Add in ladles of pasta water as needed to create a creamy smooth sauce. I think I must have added at least a cup. Toss in the parsley at the end.