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Cacio e Pepe (Italy)


This is the easiest pasta to make, and the easiest pasta to mess up. There are four ingredients:

  1. pasta, preferably spaghetti - long, thin (but not too thin) and able to be completely coated in sauce

  2. water, specifically the water used to cook the pasta

  3. fresh cracked black pepper

  4. Pecorino Romano, a hard, salty sheep’s milk cheese that Romans have been eating since the legionaries were marching on Carthage. 

You’d think this would be so easy. I mean, it’s basically Roman mac n’ cheese. But you’d be surprised how easy it is to get really greasy or clumpy or both. You’re trying to make a creamy sauce from a hard cheese. But it can be done!

Here’s secret one: grate the Pecorino as fine as you can. The finer it is, the easier it will emulsify into your sauce. 


Secret two: save a little pasta water - that’s the water you cook your pasta in. Makes a huge difference in making your sauce silky since the water contains starch, which will again help to emulsify. 


Secret three: don’t try to make this a one-pot dish. You’ll end up overcooking the cheese, which leads to lumps. Instead try this. Cook your spaghetti in well-salted water. And yes, spaghetti really is the winner here. Not so thin that it falls apart, but not so thick that portions get uncovered in sauce. Short pastas would be less appealing here too. Before you drain your pasta, be sure to save a cup or so of your pasta water.

OK. Now add the warm pasta water to a separate pot with your finely grated cheese, about 2 cups or 110 grams. Stir until it’s all completely melty and beautiful. If it looks as though it’s breaking, add a little more pasta water. Then tong in the pasta and mix it all up so it’s all coated. Buon appetito! 


Serves 4



  • 1 lb / 450 g spaghetti

  • Water

  • Salt

  • 5 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper

  • 180 g Pecorino Romano cheese, grated fine (approximately 1.75 cups)



  1. Toast the pepper in a hot, dry dutch oven until it smells fragrant. Then set aside.

  2. Cook the spaghetti in well-salted water in a pot according to directions. DO NOT use too much water - there should only be enough water to cover the pasta. Too much water means not enough starch in the pasta water.

  3. Save a cup (240 ml) of pasta water before draining the pasta. Then drain and set aside.

  4. In the dutch oven, which should still be a little warm, mix the cheese and pepper and slowly add some of the water, while mixing to create a paste. Then add a little more pasta water to transform the paste into a sauce.

  5. Lastly, add the pasta and toss like crazy. Add more water if you need to. Then savor the amazing wonder that is cacio e pepe.


Recipe adapted from

Photo by Drew Vahrenkamp

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