Cacio e Pepe

No matter how long it’s been since Tom & I have made a grocery run, we’re usually able to scrape together spaghetti, butter, olive oil & cheese & on those nights we feast like the ancient Romans … or 1960s drunken wage-workers, depending on how you spin the history of the dish. Either way Cacio e Pepe makes for a comforting & satisfying meal that’s both simple & elegant.

Katie Parla, Rome-based food & beverage educator & journalist, says, “Long, hot pasta strands are tossed with the cheese and pepper—as well as some pasta cooking water—to achieve a sauce that ranges from tight and dry to loose and creamy,” & that’s the ingredient list & recipe in a nutshell. Although, the version we lean on adds in a little more richness with a bit of butter & olive oil.

Cacio e Pepe with arugula from Chrissy Teigen's Cravings
Cacio e Pepe with arugula & lemon from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings.

Despite any slight variance in ingredients, mastering the technique of creating a silky pasta sauce from starchy pasta water, “is deeply rewarding, yielding a delicious pasta that smacks of black pepper and creamy Pecorino Romano cheese in the mouth,” according to Il Palio Chef, Teddy Diggs … & anyone who’s had the pleasure of twirling their fork in a big bowl of happiness.

serves about 4

1 lb. dried spaghetti
1/4 c. olive oil
2 tbs. butter
4 oz. Pecorino Romano, finely grated
1 1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil & salt very generously. Add the spaghetti & cook according to package instructions, drain & set aside, reserving 1 1/2 c. of pasta cooking liquid.

Dry the pot & return it to the stove, cranking the heat up to high. Add the olive oil, heating until almost smoking. Add the cooked pasta & 1 c. of the cooking liquid & toss (with tongs) to coat. Add the butter, 3/4 of the grated Pecorino, most of the black pepper & toss until everything combines into a smooth sauce coating the pasta, adding more starchy cooking liquid, if necessary.

Transfer pasta into individual serving dishes, top with remaining cheese & pepper & serve immediately.

recipe from Smitten Kitchen

Get a taste of this classic Roman dish & many more (wine pairings included!) at Tasting Rome on November 15th at 6:30 p.m. at Il Palio restaurant in Chapel Hill. Tickets are $125/person, available at

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