Authentic Italian Cacio e Pepe Recipe

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Authentic Italian Cacio e Pepe Recipe (Best Tips)! The easiest pasta of all time with only 4 ingredients and ready in 20 minutes! You will make this every week after learning the easy tricks to make it the real Italian way.

Cacio e Peppe pasta on a plate
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Authentic Italian Cacio e Pepe Recipe Recipe

Cacio e Pepe, or “cheese and pepper,” this minimalist cacio e pepe recipe is Italy’s true “mac and cheese.” Every Italian keeps this recipe in their repertoire for a quick and delicious pasta meal.

This dish is truly indulgent and packs a ton of flavor. My recipe does not use butter or cream. It is made authentically in Italy and delivers a perfectly creamy result. See the tips below!

This is one of the all-time great & classic Roman pasta. Buon appetito!

You will also love Authentic Italian Pasta Carbonara (no cream), Lemon Butter Pasta Sauce (Pasta al Limone), Authentic Pasta Alla Gricia, and Authentic Italian Fettuccine Alfredo Recipe.

The Best Cacio e Pepe Recipe

This is the most authentic Italian cacio e pepe recipe you will try. Once you make it, you make it again and again without even looking at the recipe. It is a true Italian classic that Americans love just the same.

Save the time and money of going to an expensive Italian restaurant and bring Italy to your table with this recipe.

Simple Ingredients

All you need to make this Cacio e Pepe Recipe

  • Long pasta such as spaghetti, bucatini, or egg tagliolini
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Parmigiano Regiano cheese
  • Reserved Pasta water
  • Salt for pasta water

What is Authentic Italian Cacio e Pepe?

Cacio e Pepe is an iconic Roman pasta. Cacio e Pepe (pronounced ca-cho ee pepe) is a Roman pasta dish that translates to “cheese and pepper”. The secret to the dish is in the ‘cremina” cheesy sauce.

In some American variations of cacao e pepe, add butter, cream, olive oil, red pepper flakes, other types of cheese, and even cream cheese to cacao e pepe.

As an Italian citizen, I need to tell you- No! Keep It Simple! I recommend using quality ingredients and staying true to the authentic recipe.

The reason for adding extra cream and even cream cheese is to try to achieve that “creamy” texture by cutting corners. The problem is solved by using quality ingredients. I’ll explain more below (Why Cheese Quality Matters is Cacio e Pepe).

Authentic Italian Cacio e Pepe Recipe Without Heavy Cream or Butter

The secret to avoiding heavy cream or butter in this cacio e pepe recipe and achieving a super creamy sauce is using starchy pasta water to bind the sauce with the hot pasta. The other secret is the simple process and method of how this creamy sauce is prepared. Following instructions and steps correctly is key for optimal results in this simple pasta dish.

cacio e peppe pasta

How to Make Authentic Italian Cacio e Pepe

The process for cacio e pepe is simple and easy. My 9-year-old can make this recipe!

  1. Bring water to a boil in a large pot and season with salt. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. 
  2. Meanwhile, grate the Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano to a fine powder and set them aside.
  3. In a medium sauté pan on medium heat- add the pepper and “toast” for 1 minute until you can smell it. 
  4. Drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to the hot pan with pepper and let simmer for 1-minute turn off the heat.
  5. Immediately add the cheese and give it a quick stir creating the creamy, cheesy sauce.
  6. Quickly add the hot pasta and stir, stir, stir! If needed, add a little more of the reserved pasta water to incorporate pasta with creamy sauce. 
  7. Top with extra Pecorino Romano and/or Parmigiano and extra black pepper to taste and serve immediately.  

That’s it!

TIPS FOR THE PERFECT CACIO E PEPE Recipe

  • Use Quality Cheese. Do not cut corners on this step.
  • Use Quality Pasta. This will make this recipe “restaurant-style.”
  • Fry the Pepper. I think frying the pepper brings out the aroma and flavor better. Don’t forget the pasta water. It’s what makes the sauce really “creamy”.
  • Save Pasta Water. Make sure to save the pasta at the END of the pasta cooking time so the water is starchy. This is essential in creating that “creamy” (without cream) sauce.

Read:  How Long to Boil Spaghetti Pasta Perfectly Every Time to elevate this dish even more!

Why Cheese Quality Matters in Cacio e Pepe

Since there are only a few ingredients in Cacio e Pepe, let them shine and make it count! Let’s start with the cheese.

Traditionally, pecorino is used. Pecorino cheese is a sheep milk cheese. The word “pecora” means sheep in Italian.

How to find REAL Pecorino Romano cheese:

  • Look for a black rind on the outside
  • The package will have the “DOP” seal/designation for authentication
  • It is sheep’s milk, NOT cow’s milk

There are some debates in the regions of Italy as to what cheese is best. Whether you use Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padana, or Pecorino Romano, or a mix, ensure you get the actual cheese from the block and nothing pre-grated!

The added ingredients to preserve the pre-grated cheese will make your sauce clumpy, dry, and even rubbery.

Read Why you Should Grate your Own Cheese. Respecting this tip will ensure restaurant-quality cacio e pepe EVERY TIME!

cacio e peppe pasta close up

Why Pasta Quality Matters In short, the quality of the pasta you use does affect the final product, using a bronze die-extruded pasta releases the most starch and creates a perfectly creamy sauce (without using cream). Read more about it: Pasta Quality Matters: Cheap vs. Expensive Pasta.

Variations

  • Cheese Swap. If you can’t find Pecorino Romano use all Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It is an acceptable alternative.
  • Gluten-Free. Make this recipe gluten-free by swapping out your favorite gluten-free pasta.
  • Protein. Add a protein to the pasta, like sautéed shrimp or chicken.
  • Spicy. Add crushed red pepper flakes.

Storage

Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Origins of CACIO E PEPE

The cacio e pepe recipe is one of the most ancient dish of Italian cuisine.

The legend dates back to this simple but delicious Italian spaghetti and cheese to the Roman Empire.

For centuries, cacio e pepe was the perfect meal of the Roman shepherds. Dried pasta, aged pecorino, and black pepper. These simple ingredients are easy to carry and don’t spoil in high heat and sun.

Despite what many people think, cacio e pepe recipe does not need any oil, cream, or butter. The creaminess comes from the pasta water and the freshly grated cheese.

The starch inside the spaghetti (plus the addition of reserved pasta water) and the grated pecorino combined correctly are enough to create the super creamy (no cream) cacio e pepe sauce.

This delicious peasant dish is one to make on repeat when you are in a pinch for time and need a filling meal!

To know more about other pasta origins, read this Pasta Alla Gricia vs. Classic Carbonara post!

More Classic Italian Pasta Dishes

Cacio e Peppe pasta on a plate

From My Cucina to Your Table. Mangia! Mangia! (Eat!)

Made with Amore, Elena.

This cacio e pepe recipe is the perfect weeknight dinner to throw together, especially if you’re in a pinch for time and ingredients. Bonus: everyone loves it! It is basically a healthier and tastier version of American mac-n-cheese.

Make sure to leave a ⭐️star rating on the recipe card and comment below if you make the recipe. I love to connect with you through my recipes.

I would love for you to tag me on Instagram @cucinabyelena so I can see your delicious Italian recipes. To get more ideas, follow me on Pinterest.

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plate of pasta dish with cheese and pepper

Authentic Italian Cacio e Pepe Recipe

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 7 reviews

A recipe every Italian keeps in their repertoire for a quick and delicious meal. Cacio e Pepe … Literally “cheese and pepper,” this minimalist cacio e pepe recipe is Italy’s true “mac and cheese”. Share with friends and family. From my cucina to your table, and always made with, Amore! 

  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 12 oz (150 g) long pasta of choice spaghetti, bucatini
  • 3 oz Pecorino Romano (if you can’t find it use 4 oz of parmigiano)
  • 1 oz oz of Parmigiano, more for topping
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water

Instructions

  1. Bring water to a boil in a large pot and season with salt. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. 
  2. Meanwhile, grate the Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano to a fine powder and set aside. In a medium sauté pan on medium heat- add the pepper and “toast” for 1 minute until you can smell it. 
  3. Drain the pasta and reserving 1 cup pasta water. Start by adding 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to the hot pan with pepper and let simmer for 1 minute turn off heat. Immediately add the cheese and give it a quick stir creating the creamy cheesy sauce.
  4. Quickly add hot pasta and stir, stir, stir! If needed add a little more of the reserved pasta water to incorporate pasta with creamy sauce. 
  5. Top with extra Pecorino Romano and/or Parmigiano and extra black pepper to taste and serve immediately.  

Notes

  • Use Quality Cheese. Do not cut corners on this step.
  • Use Quality Pasta. This will make this recipe “restaurant-style.”
  • Fry the Pepper. I think frying the pepper brings out the aroma and flavor better. Don’t forget the pasta water. It’s what makes the sauce really “creamy”.
  • Save Pasta Water. Make sure to save the pasta at the END of the pasta cooking time so the water is starchy. This is essential in creating that “creamy” (without cream) sauce.
  • Author: Elena Davis
  • Prep Time: 5 min
  • Cook Time: 15 min
  • Category: Savory
  • Method: Italian
  • Cuisine: Italian

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About Elena

My dream is to share delicious wholesome recipes that you will share around the table with all your loved ones. The memories surrounded by food are the heart and soul of CucinaByElena.

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11 Comments

  1. This pasta recipe is so good and I love how fast it comes together.
    It’s so creamy it’s hard to believe there’s no cream or butter in it!
    The amount of pepper was perfect for my husband and I, but the kids thought it was a little spicy, so next time I’ll probably decrease the pepper amount a smidge.






  2. I followed the directions to a T and ended up with a big clump of cheese the consistency of caramel

    1. Did you use freshly grated cheese? If it was pre-grated there are starches that make it clump. Make sure it’s off the heat and stir gradually while adding the pasta water.

  3. How have I not made this earlier?? It was so easy and delicious. My kids and husband loved it so much there were no leftovers! I couldn’t believe how fast and only a few ingredients. This is definitely going in the frequent rotation!






  4. So Yummy. I absolutely love simple and easy recipes that let the ingredients shine. This recipe checks all of the boxes! For ease and flavor this might be one of my faves. Thanks for sharing your family recipes Elena!






  5. Oh my gosh! This was so so so easy and sooooo delicious! I can’t believe how incredible just a few simple ingredients can be when combined correctly. Plus the kids loved it too. We will be making this a lot!






  6. I make a lot of Elena’s recipes, but this is one of my favorites. It’s so simple, but doesn’t taste simple. My kids love it too.