Cacio e Pepe is a simple Roman dish (meaning cheese and pepper) that is pretty much all I need in life! This easy, classic Italian pasta dish comes together in just 20 minutes, making it perfect for a family weeknight meal.

Made with just five ingredients, the simplicity of this dish is perfection! We’re sharing a longtime family favorite recipe today.

A silver pan full of cacio e pepe noodles, blue towel wrapped around handle on a marble surface.
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Cacio e Pepe is a simple Italian pasta. Truly, it’s so simple that its translation quite literally means cheese and pepper. Little else is needed to make this dish outstanding, so of course we choose those two ingredients wisely.

This recipe is so creamy (similar to an alfredo), but in my opinion, a little more refined and flavorful. Say goodbye to garlic and hello to Grana Padano, my personal favorite. Pecorino or parmesan also work well.

The girls love when I make Cacio e Pepe. They loved it from when they first started enjoying big kid foods as toddlers, and we all consider it a special treat.

Cacio e pepe on a white plate with a gold fork.
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What is Cacio e Pepe?

In Italian, cacio e pepe translates directly to “cheese and pepper”.

A centuries-old staple in Roman cuisine, it’s an incredibly simple dish made with a long, slender pasta and lots of spicy pepper and fresh cheese.

Unlike alfredo, there’s no cheesy sauce or decadent heavy cream.

In this dish, simplicity truly shines, and every ingredient matters. It’s so simple that it’s hard to believe it could taste so good!

Close up of cacio e pepe.

Ingredients, Substitutions and Variations

  • Pasta – Tonnarelli is the traditional pasta to use in this authentic recipe, but spaghetti is easily available. Bucatini and shells also pair well with this dish. Make this dish with your favorite homemade pasta or store bought.
  • Butter – Salted butter is my go to for this pasta dish, but you can use unsalted if that’s what you have on hand. If you use unsalted, you may want to add a pinch of salt to the melted butter. Or, try this recipe with Browned Butter.
  • Black Pepper – Thick flakes of black pepper add immense flavor to this simple dish. Use freshly ground or coarsely ground pepper.
  • Cheese – Grana Padano and Pecorino – the cheeses are interchangeable, you can use one or both. Buy a high quality cheese and learn how to grate cheese for the best creamy melt. Grate it finely so that it melts quickly and easily into the pasta.
  • Optional Additions – Add a little squeeze of lemon for a lemon cacio e pepe. I recommend 1-2 tablespoons. Fresh herbs are great too – oregano, rosemary and thyme are great additions. Add a protein, like my favorite Baked Chicken.
Ingredients for cacio e pepe laid out on a white marble countertop.
Cacio e pepe on a white plate with a gold fork.
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Tips

  • Prepare pasta al dente. It will continue to cook once it has drained, and again when it is added to the butter. No one likes soggy spaghetti!
  • Melt the butter on a medium heat so that it doesn’t burn. It should melt, but not bubble.
  • Save a little of your pasta water. The starch that remains in the water helps create a warm, creamy sauce in this dish.
Cacio e pepe on a white plate with a gold fork.
A silver pan full of cacio e pepe noodles, blue towel wrapped around handle on a marble surface.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you keep cheese from clumping in cacio e pepe?

Use a finely shredded cheese, and grate it yourself. Nothing can replace freshly grated cheese! In fact, many pre-packaged grated cheese blends are coated with a substance that prevents them from sticking, also preventing them from melting appropriately.

What is the best wine to serve with cacio e pepe?

This pasta dish can be enjoyed with any type of wine! Try a cold and light white wine with cacio e pepe for a delicious lunch – something with a little acidity to help balanced out the creaminess.
A Sangiovese is perfect and a chenin blanc will also work well. If you prefer red wine, a rich cabernet sauvignon will work well to balance the fragrant cheese.

Cacio e pepe on a white plate with a gold fork.
Cacio e pepe on a white plate with a gold fork.
4.85 from 19 votes

Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe is a simple pasta dish that is rich and full of flavor for an easy weeknight dinner! Made with simple ingredients, this dish comes together in 20 minutes.
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
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Ingredients  

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
  • cup Grana Padano grated
  • ½ cup Pecorino grated

Instructions 

  • Boil pasta, drain and reserve ½ cup pasta water.
    1 pound pasta
  • In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add pepper and swirl to toast. 
    6 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
    Chunks of butter melting in a silver stainless steel skillet.
  • Reduce heat to low. Add pasta and pasta water. Toss to coat.
    Cacio e pepe in a stainless steel skillet on a stovetop.
  • Toss with Grana Padano.
    ⅓ cup Grana Padano
    Cacio e pepe in a stainless steel skillet on a stovetop.
  • Remove from heat and toss with Pecorino.
    ½ cup Pecorino
    A silver pan on a stove top, filled with cacio e pepe spaghetti.

Julie’s Tips

  • Cook the pasta al dente.
  • Use half the water you would typically use so the pasta is extra starchy. 
  • Melt the butter on a medium heat so that it doesn’t burn. It should melt but not bubble.
  • Cheeses are interchangeable – you can use one or both.
  • I grate the cheeses on the finest side of my grater so that it melts quickly and easily to coat the pasta for that comforting creamy texture. The opposite applies for pepper – I turn the grinder to adjust for larger cracks of the peppercorns for texture and added flavor.
  • Optional: Toast peppercorns

How to Store

  • Room Temperature – Don’t leave out more than two hours.
  • Refrigerate – Store in an airtight container up to three days refrigerated. Add a touch of heavy cream or milk to reheat.
  • Freeze – Store in an airtight container up to three months in the freezer. Transfer to refrigerator to thaw before reheating.

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Calories: 436kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.5g | Cholesterol: 43mg | Sodium: 284mg | Potassium: 189mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 430IU | Calcium: 175mg | Iron: 1mg

Estimated nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is not guaranteed.

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16 Comments

  1. Hi. This looks so good but I can’t find those cheeses anywhere in my small town. Is there another cheese/cheeses I could substitute that you would recommend?