Who knew something so simple could be this good?
It’s no secret I like easy recipes. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the occasional cathartic 5 hours in the kitchen, but usually anything under an hour has my heart!
Tim and I really take pride into trying our hands (mostly my hand, but he does help with the dishes!) at different cuisines at home. Sometimes it will be a journey, like our Thai Massaman Chicken Curry attempt that included visits to 5 different grocery stores just to (try to) find the massaman curry. But most of the time it’s a breeze, like this Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe that requires only 5 main ingredients and is done in 20 minutes!
Cacio e Pepe means cheese and pepper in Italian. As the name suggests, cheese and pepper are the main ingredients of this classic Roman dish. It is Italian comfort food at its best and all you will need is Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino, freshly ground black pepper, spaghetti, butter, olive oil and salt. If you’re anything like me, you already have all those things in your pantry/fridge.
After trying this pasta, you will have no excuse to eat boxed mac & cheese gunk anymore! This dish is proof that having no time doesn’t mean you can’t make delicious meals at home.
I still remember the first time I tried this dish. My mom was visiting me in New York and we decided to grab lunch at Eataly, a very famous Italian food emporium in the Flatiron District. After waiting around 30 minutes for a table at La Pasta and La Pizza – the most popular restaurant in there -, we sat down, ordered some wine and proceeded to choose our entrees.
As y’all know, I’m obsessed with pizza, so I went for the Margheritta. My mom ordered the Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, against my comments on the line of: “You’re coming to the most famous food emporium in NYC to order a simple spaghetti with cheese and pepper?”.
You probably already know what happens next, right? Our foods arrive. I proceed to devour my pizza but notice my mom’s face of pure delightfulness followed by an offer to let me try her dish. I try it and it’s one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had in my life. Buttery, cheesy, peppery heaven! One of those rare food moments when something is so so good that you wanna cry happy tears of joy!
I immediately put on my sad puppy eyes to try and convince her to switch plates with me. I mean, that works like a charm with my husband… But my mom has years ahead of him and knows my tricks like the palm of her hand. No way she will ever give in to my ‘spoiledness’! So no luck for me!
Needless to say that, after trying her spaghetti, my pizza tasted like the most unappealing thing in the universe. Not that it was bad, on the contrary. But it wasn’t the Cacio e Pepe!
‘Til this day, the Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe is what I order at Eataly! But now that I know how to make it myself, maybe I can start exploring their other dishes.
The secret to this dish is the perfect balance between cheese and pasta water. The water where you cooked the spaghetti is full of starch and will help you achieve a very creamy sauce. Add the water and the cheese, little by little, tossing vigorously, until the desired consistency is achieved!
For an even creamier sauce, don’t forget to heat your serving dish. 2 minutes before the spaghetti is done cooking, just set the dish on top of the pot and you’re good to go! Adding the hot pasta to a cold serving dish will make the sauce to thicken and the pasta will stick together. You do not want that, believe me!
Also, make sure to serve your pasta immediately. A 30 minute photo shoot will cause it to get sticky and you will have to go back to the stove and add some more pasta water to save it. That might or might not have happened to me… Oops!
Don’t forget the extra Parmigiano Reggiano and the black pepper at the table. Both red and white wines work with this kind of pasta dish. I served mine with some cold crisp Frascati!
Buon appetito! :)
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- 1 pound spaghetti
- 2 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
- 6 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 stick of butter
- 1½ cups freshly grated Pecorino
- 1½ cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving
- Salt to taste
- Bring a pot full of water to boil and season with salt and a drizzle of olive oil.
- While the water is boiling, in a large sauté pan, add the black pepper and toast for a few seconds, until fragrant. Add the olive oil and the butter and stir until the butter has melted. Take pan off heat and reserve.
- Cook the spaghetti for a few minutes less than package instructions. (Barilla will be al dente at 9 minutes, so I cooked for 7 minutes!) Drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. 2 minutes before the spaghetti is done, set your serving dish on the hot pot to warm it up!
- Add ½ cup of pasta water to the butter/pepper mixture, add the pasta and stir over medium heat, coating the spaghetti. Add the cheese and toss vigorously until the cheese melts. Add more pasta water or cheese as needed for a creamy sauce.
- Transfer to serving dish and serve immediately, with extra Parmigiano Reggiano and black pepper.