Simple pasta with cheese and pepper makes cacio e pepe a comforting, classic Italian recipe that is perfect for an easy, quick, vegetarian weeknight dinner.
There are days where spending hours in the kitchen makes me happier than I can ever explain. Taking my time to create incredible flavour, kneading dough or just simply trying and testing new techniques and ingredients all give me immense pleasure. But then there are days where I avoid the kitchen like the plague. Days where inspiration, ingredients or energy are at a low and I just don’t want to think about food or cooking. On those days, I turn to fail-safe, always-great, easy-peasy recipes that I can throw together in a flash. Recipes that will taste great and satisfy while requiring minimal effort from me.
Cacio e pepe is exactly that. You could not find a simpler, more delectable recipe. And although it could go wrong if you don’t emulsify the butter with the pasta water properly, it really is incredibly easy to make. And I’ll be honest, I make it more often than I would like to admit because of that very reason. When food is your job, sometimes when dinner-time rolls around, you’re just sick of it. But my kids don’t share the sentiment and food is all they want. And that’s where this little star of a dish shines.
Cacio e pepe literally means “Cheese and pepper” and as is the case with simple food, using the very best ingredients you can find is crucial. This is not the time for powdery-packet-Parmesan or Pecorino. Use the good stuff. I promise it will be worth it. I prefer to use freshly cracked white pepper because I find it a lot more delicate and floral than black but by all means, use black. It’s definitely more traditional and I also like to use a combination of olive oil and butter because I love the flavour of both. However, using just butter is also perfectly good.
The key here is to toast the pepper in the olive oil and butter and then toss in the cooked pasta with a little of the cooking water and loads of grated cheese. Quickly toss and turn the pasta in the buttery-cheesy liquid until the starch in the cooking water, the butter and the cheese form a light, creamy sauce which will coat the pasta beautifully. Adding more water will loosen the sauce and will create more creaminess. Just add the water slowly to create that creaminess. Then quickly tip into bowls and top with more cheese before tucking in. Simple perfection.
Cacio e pepe
- 500 g spaghetti/Linguini
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 teaspoons cracked pepper to taste
- 1½ cups finely grated Parmesan cheese plus extra for serving.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente.
- In the meantime, melt together the butter and olive oil over low heat and add the pepper. Allow the pepper to toast in the butter/oil until fragrant.
- When the pasta is cooked, reserve 2 cups of water and drain. Toss the pasta into the pan with the butter and pepper and add the cheese and 1/2 cup of water. Toss and turn the pasta in the sauce until creamy, adding 1/2 cup of cooking water at a time to loosen the sauce and add more creaminess.
- Transfer to bowls then top with more cheese and serve.