Loved by both vegetarians and omnivores, tonnarelli cacio e pepe is one of those Roman classics you need to try where you know they make it the proper way. It’s fundamentally an easy dish as it requires only a few ingredients, but if you don’t follow the steps the right way, it won’t come with the creamy texture that is supposed to be its strong feature. So, what’s the secret? Follow our original recipe and you will make a fantastic cacio e pepe pasta for your family any time you want to feel still in Italy!
If you are just back from your trip to Italy and are missing Italian food, our easy cacio e pepe recipe will make you feel you are still in Rome.
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Roman Cacio e Pepe Pasta Recipe: Ingredients and Instructions
Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe Ingredients for 4 People
- 360 g of tonnarelli pasta. The original cacio e pepe comes with tonnarelli, a type of fresh egg pasta square-shaped. They are sometimes called “spaghetti alla chitarra”, (guitar spaghetti, mainly in the Abruzzo region), but the ones used in Rome for this dish are slightly thicker. If you didn’t buy them in Italy, you can use the thick spaghetti you can find in your city. Lately, several Rome restaurants have been serving the cacio e pepe course with short rigatoni pasta. Even though I think the tonnarelli version better blend in with the creamy sauce, I have tried it also with rigatoni and it’s still delicious. So if you don’t fancy or can’t find thick spaghetti, you can also make it with a shorter type of pasta, as long as they are ridged.
- 300 g of grated cacio cheese. This is what here we call the Roman pecorino. For this dish, you will need it in its aged form and plentiful. I know you love Parmigiano, but you can’t really use it here, other you might even get a nice result, but it’s not the original cacio e pepe which, in my opinion, is the best. Also, no need to add oil and butter. Actually, they both are a no-no in this recipe. Follow these steps and you will get all the creaminess you fell in love with when you tried it at Felice a Testaccio for the first time. Even though where you live you will find many types of cheese, probably you won’t be able to buy pecorino romano, so definitely buy it during your stay in Rome, you can find it in every market store.
- 2 teaspoons of black pepper. This is really simply black pepper, but for a better result, get it organic, good quality, and possibly in grains to grind at the moment, or even better, to crush in a mortar and pestle to release its sharp scent and flavor.
Pasta Cacio e Pepe Instructions
There really are two ways you can make a nice and creamy cacio e pepe pasta. I’m going to explain both of them so that you can choose what best works for you and your kitchen appliances.
- In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. When it starts bubbling throw in a good pinch of salt and add the pasta. Check the pasta instructions and keep an eye on the watch as you need to drain it well al dente.
- In the meantime, on a large pan gently toast the black pepper and add a ladleful of the water where the pasta is cooking, by now rich in starch. Let the pepper season the water and add the cacio cheese. You can add the whole cheese from the beginning or half of it now and the other half on the plate.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain it with a perforated ladle and toss it directly into the pan with the pepper and cheese to keep some of the water.
- Keep cooking the pasta on the pan with cheese and pepper and stir until smooth and creamy. Once the pasta reaches your desired texture, serve it in a place with a generous sprinkle of cacio cheese and black pepper.
- Just like in the first version, bring the water to a boil, add the salt and cook the pasta until al dente.
- On a large bowl add the freshly ground pepper, the cheese, and a few spoons of the pasta water now rich in starch, and stir well until you see it’s no longer lumpy. Add more water if you think it’s getting too dry, it needs to stay moist and creamy but not liquid.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain it without throwing all the water away and toss it into the bowl mixing it energetically to thoroughly blend with the cheese creating a nice cream.
- Serve it with a generous sprinkle of pecorino and black pepper.
Tips for a perfect result
Check the cheese age
The more aged is the cheese, the hotter the water needs to melt it properly. So, consider both how old is the cheese and the quantity of water to use because if the cheese is young and/or you use too much water, you risk making your pasta liquid instead of creamy!
Use quality ingredients
With literally 3 ingredients, this was born as a dish of the poor. Just like for many simple dishes, its success really depends on the quality of the ingredients you use. With a cheap black pepper that releases no fragrance and poor pecorino cheese that doesn’t melt, forget your Roman dish.
Use just enough water
If you cook the pasta in just enough water rather than in a pot full to the brim, it will remain richer in starch and when you pour it into the pan, the result will be creamier.
Don’t add too much salt
Roman pecorino is already pretty savory so adding salt to the plate will ruin your dish.
Enjoy it hot
Serve it when you are all ready to eat as this pasta needs to be enjoyed hot, or else it might become hard and dry.