A blend of cheese, pepper and pasta makes cacio e pepe one of the most simple pasta dishes that you could make. However, as easy as it sounds to make, it is also really easy to mess up. We did our research and after numerous trials, we have found the little techniques and tricks to correctly make this divine pasta dish in two different ways.
Classic Cacio e Pepe
- 1/2 pound spaghetti
- 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups grated pecorino romano
- 1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
- In a pan, boil a few cups of generously salted water. Add the pasta noodles to the pan, laying them flat and making sure that the amount of water is enough to just cover the top of the spaghetti noodles. Cooking the noodles in a shallow amount of water ensures that the pasta releases a large amount of starch that will thicken the sauce and bring it together. Cook the noodles for 9-10 minutes.
- Once the noodles are done cooking, scoop out the noodles and place them on another plate. Doing this instead of draining the water through a coriander prevents the noodles from clumping. Reserve about 2 cups of the starchy pasta water. Set aside the pasta water, and let it cool for a couple of minutes.
- Turn off the heat and toast the freshly ground black pepper for about 1-2 minutes or until the pepper becomes fragrant.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the cheeses. Slowly add in some of the reserved pasta water until it becomes a well-combined and creamy mixture.
- Add a 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the pan with the toasted black pepper. Add in the pasta noodles.
- Add in the cheese mixture to the pan and toss the ingredients together to combine them. Feel free to add in a little more pasta water until your desired consistency is reached.
- Serve on a plate and garnish with more grated cheese and ground black pepper. Enjoy!
Vegan Cacio e Pepe
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon white or yellow miso paste
- ½ pound bucatini
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Zest of 1/2 lemon
- Vegan parmesan (for garnish)
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high. (Go easy on the salt here, since the miso paste added in Step 4 is high in salt.) Add the olive oil and miso to a small bowl and stir into a thick paste.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water, reduce the temperature to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute before al dente according to package instructions. Reserve 2 1/2 cups pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.
- Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the empty pot and heat over medium. Add about 2/3 of the crushed black peppercorns and toast, stirring frequently until fragrant for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the miso mixture and stir, then whisk in 1 3/4 cups of the reserved pasta water until the sauce is smooth. Add the pasta to the sauce and cook over medium-high, tossing it constantly and vigorously with tongs until the sauce is glossy and the pasta is fully al dente for 1-2 minutes. Add an extra splash of reserved pasta water to keep the sauce glossy, if needed.
- Divide among bowls. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining crushed red and black pepper and finally top with lemon zest, lemon juice and a guilty amount of vegan parm to serve immediately to your hungry guests.
Making cacio e pepe shouldn’t be difficult, whether it is in a vegan or non-vegan format. The simplicity of the non-vegan recipe can be substituted for the non-traditional elevated vegan recipe depending on your mood. One thing that’s for sure though is that both recipes are guaranteed to impress your guests and have them think you have the skills of a top chef.
A version of this article appeared on p. 12 of the March 31, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.