Cacio e pepe pasta (aka mac-n-cheese for grownups)

Italy mealtimeRich and Anna were scheduled to arrive at 10pm.  Roughly the time we lay our heads on our pillows at night exhausted from a full day, many kids and multiple to-dos.  But we didn’t mention that when they gave us their itinerary.  Instead, after we finished our regular family dinner, we set out a welcoming table for them: A pitcher of water, a cutting board with cheese and salami, a bottle of wine, already opened, sitting next to two polished wine glasses and a juice glass for Jake.   Their bed was turned down, the lights were on.  We awaited their arrival a bit like puppies waiting for their owners to return; pacing the floor, peering out of the door, walking back to the kitchen to make sure everything looked perfect for their arrival.  Our simple plan was to give big hugs and kisses, point them toward the table and tell them we’d see them the next day.

cacio e pepe Jessica BrideBut that is not what happens when you see dear friends after a month away from home, is it?  Our plan was abandoned the second we saw their headlights come down the Cypress tree lined drive.   Instead we met them in the driveway and passed hugs and suitcases all around.  We walked into the house with them, arms linked, asking about their flight and travel and admiring their nippy white convertible.  

All thoughts of going straight to bed were abandoned and instead Nick poured wine for the four of us and I put a pot of pasta onto boil for Jake, who was starving.  

cacio-e-pepe-2-of-3Now Jake, at 9-years-old, was happy to eat plain pasta – hold the olive oil, but I could not serve the same thing to two grown ups, so I whipped up one of the easiest, most delicious spaghetti sauces there is:  Cacio e pepe.

Cacio e pepe literally means “cheese and pepper” in a few Italian dialects and the sauce is pretty much just that.  Five minutes after the pasta itself is cooked you are serving dinner. It is a simple, silky rich sauce that perfectly coats the pasta and showcases simple ingredients.  It also makes you look superhuman when you serve it.  It’s kind of a sophisticated fettuccine-alfredoy-mac-n-cheesy-wonder.

The only thing you need to know is to  use the best ingredients you can + serve immediately.  

If you can add a month in Tuscany and the company of some of your favourite people, well that won’t hurt at all. 



Cacio e pepe
  1. 6 oz. pasta (pici, bucatini, or spaghetti)
  2. 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  3. 1 tsp. freshly rough cracked black pepper
  4. 3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Roman
  5. 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  6. Salt (you may not need this)
  1. Boil pasta according to directions cooking only until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and then drain, leaving the pasta in the colander and returning the pot in which you cooked the pasta to the stove.
  2. Melt the butter in the pot over medium heat. Add the cracked pepper and cook for a minute or so. Add the pasta water.
  3. After 30 seconds add the cooked pasta. Reduce the heat to low and add the grated cheese, stirring gently with tongs or a wooden spoon until melted. Test for salt, pepper, water or cheese and add as you wish.
  4. Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve immediately with grated Parmesan cheese on top.
Belle Année

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4 Responses to Cacio e pepe pasta (aka mac-n-cheese for grownups)

  1. Karen October 2, 2016 at 10:04 #

    Thank you Jessica. This is sublime. Often the simplest but best ingredients make for a memorable repast. My husband and I got hooked on this (well this and spaghetti carbonara) while visiting Rome. Eating this brings me right back to those wonderful trattorias.

    • jessica October 28, 2016 at 07:55 #

      It was one of those things that really happened by accident and now is a staple. Of course it is really hard to find good pecorino outside of Italy but we do what we can 🙂

  2. Catherine McCord October 2, 2016 at 15:16 #

    This looks HEAVENLY!! Surprisingly my kids love pepper, but I haven’t thought to make this. You’ve inspired me!

    • jessica October 28, 2016 at 07:55 #

      Give it a shot. One of my children loves it but two do not. Go figure….