Does it feel like everyone you know is living their best life in Italy? That’s probably because they are. Italy has been an incredible vacation destination forever, but the Italian food and travel marketing push has been extra robust in the last few years (check out the True Italian Taste project or the Aperol Spritz “craze”). But hey, I’m certainly not complaining. A huge part of the allure of Italy is the idea of a high quality experience with very minimal effort. This is also why I think the dish Cacio e Pepe has become so insanely popular.
Literally translated to “cheese and pepper”, Cacio e Pepe is a classic Roman dish, and like many Italian classics, is of simple peasant origins. The minimalist recipe (which looks great in the Le Creuset Minimalist Coupe Pasta Bowls if I do say so myself) calls for only a few ingredients: Pecorino Romano (sometimes cut with a milder hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano because the “full sheep flavour” of Pecorino is a bit much for many people to handle), black peppercorns, and a long pasta (usually spaghetti, bucatini or tonnarelli).
If you look closely, you will see that I have used both spaghetti and bucatini throughout the photos for this post as I wanted to experiment to determine the best one. The dry spaghetti and bucatini are also modeled my friend Dennis above. Honestly, I loved both and really think it comes down to personal preference. Spaghetti allows you to get more of a smooth experience, and is easier to work with, but bucatini allows the sauce to literally flow through the holes in the pasta. Try to find a pasta that says “Made in Italy” and also made from “Durum Wheat Semolina”. If you are holding up two packages in the store, go with the one with a grittier, whiter look as opposed to the smooth yellow one. It will taste better and catch the sauce more effectively.
I’m making this recipe with the Le Creuset Canada line of stainless steel products, and specifically, the stainless steel stockpot with pasta insert, the stainless steel risotto pot and fry pan (either of the latter two would be great, you don’t need both). Le Creuset is obviously well-known for their enameled cast iron, but their stainless steel products are also fantastic. I reach for them whenever I want something lighter and easier to manipulate, or if I’m trying to create more of a “restaurant style” experience. All of the stainless steel products are made with a three-layer construction including a stainless steel interior and exterior and a heat-responsive aluminum core. They are also super slick and stylish, and easy to pop in the dishwasher.
The Cacio e Pepe dish is so simple and traditional that I don’t think anyone can really claim title to the “original recipe”. Of course, this doesn’t stop the endless feed of new recipes online purporting finding a better, creamier or more efficient way to manipulate these very few ingredients! If you want to do a little more research of your own, I would highly recommend starting with Alex’s YouTube channel, which is where I drew much of my inspiration for the recipe below. At the end of the day, how you make this dish is up to you, but please, do not ever add cream!
Traditional Cacio e Pepe
A velvety classic Roman pasta
- 1 handful spaghetti or bucatini
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns highest quality possible
- 1 cup Pecorino Romano
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
Bring a large stainless steel stockpot (best with a pasta insert) of water to a boil (medium heat setting is enough). Heavily salt the water. Once the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until just barely al dente.
After the pasta has been cooking for at least 5 minutes, heat a stainless steel fry pan or pot to medium and toss the black peppercorns to toast. Transfer peppercorns to a mortar and pestle and crush until you have large cracked pieces. Then, transfer pieces back to the fry pan and add a small ladleful of pasta water. Stir lightly while allowing some of the water to evaporate. You will be left with a reduced peppery, salty water base.
Combine the two cheeses in a bowl (save a little for the end). Pour in around 1/2 cup of pasta water and stir vigorously until you form a chunky paste.
When the pasta is done cooking, remove the pasta insert and transfer pasta to the fry pan. Reduce heat to low and toss vigorously with a large pronged fork (avoid metal to prevent scratching) or wooden chopsticks for a minute or two in the peppery water. Then, add your cheese mixture and continue to toss. Turn off the heat as soon as pasta is fully coated and sauce is smooth. Adjust with a tablespoon of additional pasta water at a time if necessary to achieve that "creamier" consistency.
Twirl with the large fork or chopsticks to plate. Sprinkle each portion with some extra Pecorino Romano and/or Parmigiano and pepper to taste.
The most traditional cacio e pepe recipe calls for only Pecorino Romano. However, Parmigiano Reggiano lends a milder flavour and reduces the overly pungent flavour of the sheep cheese. Feel free to adjust proportions according to taste!
Try to use the minimum amount of water you think you need to boil the pasta. The starchier the pasta water, the easier it is to emulsify and combine with the cheese.
For more of my Le Creuset recipes, click here.
Please note: This recipe was made in partnership with Le Creuset Canada and contains affiliate links. If you click on any link and get directed to Le Creuset Canada’s website, it will not affect your use of the site in any way, but if you end up buying something from a link off this site, you would be helping Chu on This. So, thanks in advance!