Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) is a super simple Roman dish that can be a challenge, but our step by step photos will show you how to make one of the most comforting Italian pasta dishes with confidence.  The best part about making this classic is the more you practice, the better you’ll get.  Get ready to carbo-load for this one!

Cacio e pepe in pan with sprinkled pepper.

When we make bucatani cacio e pepe we often gather around the kitchen island and eat it right away before the pasta dries out and the creamy consistency is lost.

This is not a dish to order out, bring home leftovers, and microwave the next day. 

Like spaghetti carbonara and linguine al limone it is meant to be enjoyed, and devoured immediately!

There are a lot of recipes online adding chicken, veggies, and who knows what else, but for this dish, we favor the original recipe consisting of salty Pecorino Romano, coarse black pepper, and a touch of starchy pasta water.  It’s easier too since you only need a few ingredients.

 

What type of cheese for cacio e pepe?

Pecorino Romano is the traditional cheese to use and though this can be a matter of personal taste, it really shouldn’t be messed with. 

The sharp salty bite of Pecorino Romano makes for the perfect cacio e pepe.  The Locatelli brand of Pecorino (picture below) is more expensive than others but worth it if you can find it.

If you choose to use parmesan instead (my wife often requests I make it with Parmigiano Reggiano) a touch of extra salt might be required. 

Use what you like though, as ultimately your preference should always outweigh mine!

Locatelli Pecorino Romano, black pepper grinder and bucatini on cutting board.

About the pepper

The pepper (pepe) is really nice when it’s coarse.  Use a coarse grinder or wrap whole peppercorns in a few paper towels and crush them on a cutting board with the flat side of a meat mallet.   

Initially, the pepper can be pan-roasted to bring out even more flavor prior to tossing in the pasta and cheese.

Step by step process

  1. Cook 1 pound of bucatini until ‘al dente’ in salted water, reserving the pasta water.  Tip – Use less water to boil than usual to achieve starchier water.  This will help in making the sauce creamier.  Begin by grating 2 cups of Pecorino Romano cheese on the finest setting.  Alternatively, use pre-grated fine Pecorino Romano.
  2. Heat a large pan on medium heat with 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  Add 2 teaspoons of coarse black pepper to the oil and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.

Cacio e pepe process shot collage group number one.

  1. Add 1 cup of the reserved starchy pasta water.
  2. Let it cook for a minute.
  3. Add the pasta to the pan and toss to coat.  Turn off the heat.
  4. Slowly add 1 1/2 cups of Pecorino Romano and start stirring immediately with a wooden spoon.

Recipe process shot collage group number two.

  1. Keep stirring until the cacio e pepe is real creamy and the cheese is melted smooth.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of extra cooled-down pasta water at a time to loosen the sauce up if required.
  2. Hit the pasta up with a touch more pepper, taste test and adjust salt if necessary.  Plate immediately or just eat it out of the pan.

Serve with more pepper and extra Pecorino Romano.

Alternative method

Instead of cooking it in the pan, you can mix the cheese, pepper, and pasta water in a bowl to form a sauce slurry.  Basically, in the exact same manner one would make fettuccine alfredo.

You can even use some cold tap water. 

Colder water prevents the cheese from clumping.  Add the pasta to the bowl and stir quickly.  Either way works well, but the bowl method might be a bit easier.

Clumps will sometimes form in the cheese, and though your cacio e pepe will still be delicious, it might lack that creamy texture that is so desired. 

Don’t fret.  You will get the hang of this one after a few tries and still might get a perfect result right away!

Plate of cacio e pepe with grated Pecorino Romano on top of wood table.

Don’t feel like you have to use any particular pasta shape.  Look at this calamarata version below.

Calamarata cacio e pepe in large pan.

My kids like this shape the most.  It was a tad creamier too! 

The pepper was made extra coarse with the meat mallet trick, plus I wanted a good pic for Instagram.

We love the pepper this way!  If you don’t, simply use a finer grind.

If you like this pasta shape check out this paccheri pasta with butter beans recipe, which uses a similar but larger shape of pasta called paccheri.

What to serve with cacio e pepe

Light salads and sides such as these go well with this super hearty pasta:

Bucatini cacio e pepe in plate.

Tips to make perfect cacio e pepe

  • Turn off the heat after adding the pasta to the pan.  This will slightly cool the temp prior to adding the cheese, making it more likely for the cheese to not clump up.
  • Make sure to grate the cheese really fine, or buy pre-grated ultra-fine Pecorino.  This will help it melt more quickly.
  • Using a touch of oil helps the sauce emulsify.  Some people use butter as well for this step.   Neither are traditional and might trigger the authenticity police – you’ve been warned!
  • Stir quickly with a wooden spoon as soon as the cheese hits the pasta.  If you have help, have one person slowly add the cheese in while you mix quickly.
  • If the pasta is too dry add 1-2 tablespoons of pasta water at a time to bring the creamy consistency right back to the bucatini cacio e pepe.
  • If all else fails, ( You might have to make a couple of attempts.  This is part of the fun and joy of learning to cook!) use the bowl method where the cheese, pasta water, and pepper are combined into a paste before adding the pasta back in.

More hearty Italian pasta recipes

If you’ve enjoyed this bucatini cacio e pepe recipe or any recipe on this site, give it a 5-star rating and tell us about it in the comments below.

We would love to hear how you did and it’s nice to show others as well. Thanks!

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Bucatini Cacio E Pepe

5 from 5 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings: 4
Bucatini cacio e pepe is a simple pasta dish of Pecorino Romano cheese, coarse black pepper and pasta water that is pure comfort.

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound bucatini pasta
  • 2 cups Pecorino Romano
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Instructions 

  • Cook bucatini until 'al dente' in salted water. Reserve at least 1 cup of pasta water.
  • Grate 1 1/2 cups of Pecorino Romano cheese.
  • Heat a large pan on medium heat and cook 3 tsp of pepper in 1 Tbsp of olive oil for 1-2 minutes. Add 1 cup of pasta water to the pan and cook for 1 more minute.
  • Add the bucatini to the pan and stir to coat. After 1 minute of cooking, turn off the heat to the pan.
  • Add the cheese slowly and stir to combine. Mix in a fast motion to create a creamy sauce that thoroughly coats the pasta. If too dry add 1 Tbsp of pasta water at a time to create the perfect creamy consistency.
  • Taste test and adjust salt if required. Serve immediately with more pepper and Pecorino Romano. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Turn off the heat after adding the pasta to the pan.  This will slightly cool the temp prior to adding the cheese, making it more likely for the cheese to not clump up.
  • Make sure to grate the cheese really fine, or buy pre-grated ultra fine Pecorino.  This will help it melt more quickly.
  • Using a touch of oil helps the sauce emulsify.  Some people use butter as well for this step.
  • Stir quickly with a wooden spoon as soon as the cheese hits the pasta.  If you have help, have one person slowly add the cheese in while you mix quickly.
  • If the pasta is too dry add 1-2 tablespoons of pasta water at a time to bring the creamy consistency right back to the bucatini cacio e pepe.
  • If all else fails, ( You might have to make a couple of attempts.  This is part of the fun and joy of learning to cook!) use the bowl method where the cheese, pasta water and pepper are combined into a paste before adding the pasta back in.
  • Leftovers are not recommended due to sauce separation.

Nutrition

Calories: 558kcal | Carbohydrates: 83.6g | Protein: 22g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Sodium: 720mg | Potassium: 2mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 2g | Calcium: 320mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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15 Comments

  1. Jeanne Fischesser says:

    5 stars
    Amazing! So simple and tasty😍

  2. Anna says:

    5 stars
    First time and it was perfect. I went by your instructions and it came out great. I didn’t use olive oil. Just went by your video.

    Thanks
    Anna Atkins

  3. Andrea Runde says:

    Hello James

    I love many of your recipes, and most of all I love the soooo informative comments you make about them. Such as the one about using a noodle other than bucatini. I personally love it,. but my husband likes a noodle that is easier to “spear” on the fork. (sigh…) So I will make it with some other noodle, and I know we will both enjoy it. And… Cent’anni…so that you can make more great recipes for me to try!

  4. Rich says:

    Love your recipes James. I also love that you’re from Long Island (like myself) and mention the ingrediants by name and where you get them from.
    Keep up the good work my friend and maybe I’ll run into you at Costco one day.
    Ciao for now.

    1. Tara says:

      Hey Rich, thanks for the comment and we’re so happy you’re enjoying the recipes!

  5. Tony Nastasi says:

    I made your Cacio e Pepe with spaghetti for myself when my wife was out to dinner with friends. When I told her the ingredients, she was reluctant to try it (starchy pasta water?). Later, she tried some leftovers. Now it is the pasta of choice to go with my braciola for company. Thanks Jim

    1. Jim says:

      Hey Tony. The starchy pasta water is so important for dishes like traditional cacio e pepe and fettuccine alfredo. The starchy water holds the emulsion and almost acts as cream would. I think serving this with braciole is an excellent choice!

  6. Daniel Camm says:

    5 stars
    Hey Jim,
    Thanks for the videos and recipes.
    I found that I could reheat leftovers by bringing about 1/4 cup pasta water to a simmer in a pan and continually stirring the pasta until desired temp, the separated sauce re-combined using that method. I thought you might like the tip.
    Keep it up mate.

    1. Jim says:

      Hi Daniel. I appreciate the tip. Glad you’re enjoying the videos and recipes.

  7. JB says:

    First off, love the videos. However, I made this one, and one word comes to mind: salty!

    The amount of Pecarino Romano called for adds an insane amount of salt to this dish. I would recommend another milder hard cheese as a substitute for the main emulsion, finishing with a dusting of Pecarino Romano. Definitely wouldn’t be the traditional method, though. Just be forewarned.

    1. Jim says:

      Hi JB. Pecorino Romano is indeed quite salty. There is really no way to make a low salt real cacio e pepe since the main ingredient is a large amount of Pecorino Romano. Anyway, sorry you didn’t like it, but thanks for liking the videos.

  8. LTH says:

    5 stars
    Just made this dish and it’s delicious! As per your video, I opted to leave the olive oil out and everything still melted wonderfully. Paired this with a side of roasted broccoli with cheese and lemon. So so good! Next time, I’m going to experiment with different types of pasta. Thank you for the recipe and looking forward to trying many others. ☺️
    PS: love the videos you make. Recipes look very approachable.

    1. Jim says:

      Hey there. It’s great to hear that you enjoyed it and thanks for liking the videos!

  9. Mary Jane says:

    5 stars
    Made it for the first time. Read many different recipes on Pinterest and talked to a friend living in Rome. She said using butter is an American version of Cacio e Pepe but all Italian food has olive oil in it. That is why I was drawn to this recipe.

    Quick easy and delicious!!!

    1. Jim says:

      Hi Mary Jane! Butter makes the dish a bit creamier and helps avoid the cheese clumping. But, your friend would of course know that it is not traditionally prepared that way. Thanks for the comment and glad you enjoyed it!