Simple but classic, this Italian pasta recipe is one that is hard not to love and so incredibly easy to make. Our 20 Minute Cacio e Pepe is a cheese and pepper packed pasta that's ready and on the table fast!
We have a lot of pasta recipes that we love in this house, but I have to say that our new 20 Minute Cacio e Pepe recipe has taken the lead! This classic Italian pasta recipe is surprisingly easy to make and also just so simple and delicious. It's perfect for a simple vegetarian pasta dinner, quick lunch, or as a side to any meal. While I'd say it's for the pepper lover, our 5-year-old who claims to not love pepper had second helpings and asked for it the next day, too!
What is Cacio e Pepe?
Quite simply it is "cheese and pepper" in Italian. This simple pasta recipe originated in Rome and while it is traditionally made with tonnarelli pasta, it is commonly found to be made with the (very similar) spaghetti. Tonnarelli is just a little thicker and has a square end vs. spaghetti's rounded end. You could of course make it with whatever pasta you have on hand, especially if you have some fresh homemade pasta!
- Spaghetti - This is our preferred pasta for this Italian classic, but if you wanted to be truly authentic, then it would be made with tonnarelli. You can use whatever pasta you have, just be sure to adhere to the cooking time. And of course, this is an outstanding recipe with fresh homemade pasta!
- Cheese - Traditionally Cacio e Pepe is made with just Romano Pecorino cheese, but we love a blend of Romano, Parmesan, and Asiago. You can of course use any combination or the three or less that you'd like.
- Pepper - The Pepe! You can use preground or freshly ground pepper, whichever you have/prefer. Freshly ground pepper has a much fresher, spicier taste. When I make this for my family, I will use pre-ground pepper, but for myself, I make it with freshly ground.
- Olive Oil - We prefer to use olive oil for this recipe, but you can also use butter.
- Kosher Salt - Just for the pasta water - because remember to always salt your pasta water!
SO Easy to Make
We just love a pasta recipe that's fast and easy to make to get dinner on the table quickly on those busy weeknights and this 20 Minute Cacio e Pepe is exactly that! Put that water on to boil to cook your pasta and then heat some oil, saute some pepper, add pasta water, the pasta with a little more oil, and then cheese. That's it!
Give it all a good mix to let the cheese melt, get all creamy, and coat all of your pasta. Thanks to that starchy pasta water, all of that melty cheese will cling nicely to your pasta for fully coated spaghetti.
This will not only flavor your noodles, but it will also help with reducing the stickiness of the cooked pasta, and, most importantly, it helps thicken the sauce and allows it to stick to the pasta when you add it to the cooked pasta.
Whenever you want the ultimate melt with your cheese, it's important to freshly grate cheese from a block and not use pre-shredded cheese. This is because the pre-shredded cheese you buy from the store has anti-clumping agents added, which will ultimately affect the meltiness of your cheese.
This is another crucial step to making this classic Italian pasta recipe. That starchy salty water is what will ensure that all of that melty cheese sticks to your noodles!
This is totally a personal preference, but freshly ground pepper is going to have the strongest, freshest, and spiciest flavor while pre-ground pepper is going to have a little more muted pepper flavor in comparison.
Because the pasta will be doing some more cooking while in the pan with the cheese, don't fully cook your pasta in the pasta water, cook it just 1 minute less than al dente, and then let it finish cooking in the pan with all of that cheese!
20 Minute Cacio e Pepe! Do you see how glossy that pasta is? That's thanks to all of that cheese clinging to those spaghetti noodles for all of the cheesy pepper flavors you want in every single bite!
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- 1/2 lb pasta spaghetti is our favorite, but you can use yours!
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2/3 cup reserved pasta water
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese freshly shredded
- 1/2 cup Asiago cheese freshly shredded
- 1/2 cup Romano Pecorino cheese freshly shredded
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt for the pasta water
- Cook Pasta: Heat a pot of water with salt over high heat and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook 1 minute less than al dente as listed on the box. If using fresh pasta, boil for only 2 minutes.
- Toast Pepper: When pasta is only 3 minutes from being done, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a saute pan and heat over medium. Add pepper and mix well, toasting for 1 minute.
- Add Pasta: Scoop out 2/3 cup of pasta water from the cooking pasta pot and add to the pan with the oil and pepper. Let simmer for 1 minute. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan and stir to combine with the pasta water, oil, and pepper. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and mix well.
- Add Cheese: Add half of the cheese and stir with pasta. Add the remaining cheese and stir until it all has melted. Finish with a pinch more pepper if desired.
- Serve and enjoy!