Forget bolognese, and cast carbonara aside. When you’re in Rome, the first pasta you need to try is cacio e pepe.
This is Roman cooking at its best. Just take a handful of ingredients, cook them with love, and you get one delicious dish. Cacio e pepe means “cheese and pepper” in Italian, and that’s basically the recipe, too! It’s one of the most typical foods in Rome, and one that has to be at the top of your foodie bucket list.
The secret to this simple dish is a long, thin pasta noodle (usually bucatini, but spaghetti works too). The extra surface area drags up even more of the tasty sauce, made from an emulsion of pecorino romano cheese and starchy pasta water. The sweet and piquant flavor of the freshly cracked black pepper is the cherry on top!
Keep it Simple
The best Roman pasta dishes are super simple to make. Cacio e pepe, carbonara and pasta alla gricia all use only a handful of local ingredients to make something that tastes way more delicious than the sum of their parts!
For shepherds caring for their flocks outside of Rome, cacio e pepe was the perfect way to keep hunger at bay on long treks from home. They would combine their sheeps’ cheese with a few grinds of black pepper, and cook up the dried pasta.
And don’t be confused by the creamy sauce! There’s no cream in the recipe. The silky smoothness comes from using a touch of the starchy pasta water; it melts the cheese and binds it to the pasta!
Note: Classic cacio e pepe doesn’t use butter, but we think it makes the sauce extra rich and silky (and delicious!).
Authentic Roman cacio e pepe pasta recipe
- Recipe Type: Pasta
- Cuisine: Roman
- Prep time: 10 mins
- Cook time: 10 mins
- Total time: 20 mins
- Serves: 4
- 8 ounces (226 g) bucatini pasta (spaghetti will work, too)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- Bring 4 quarts of heavily salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and cook until just before al dente. Drain, reserving the starchy pasta water.
- Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and half the pepper and cook until fragrant.
- Add a ½ cup of the pasta water to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and remaining tablespoon of butter and teaspoon of pepper. Reduce heat to low and add the cheese. Stir gently until the cheese is melted and the sauce is emulsified; add more pasta water if necessary.
- Serve, topped with more cheese and pepper if desired!
We’re so obsessed with Roman pasta that we created an entire online cooking class featuring it. Join our Rome operations manager Abbie for an evening in Roma from home as you learn the secrets behind two of the Eternal City’s most iconic pasta dishes in our Cook Pasta Like a Roman class!
Born and raised in Australia, David is currently based in Seville, where he spends his time leading food and wine tours, blogging about Spanish cuisine, and taking his daily siesta. You can follow his foodie adventures on the Everyday Food Blog.