Cacio e Pepe is a fundamental Roman dish. The recipe is very straightforward and requires only a few ingredients. Where the complication lies is in the execution of this one — you have to cook fast and with confidence. This isn’t an advanced ragu that has to simmer for a whole day. It’s a pretty basic buttery cheese sauce and cracked pepper base that really only takes about 12 minutes from start to finish.
Great food shines or dies by the ingredients you choose to use. If you’re making Cacio e Pepe, get the real stuff — otherwise, this recipe will fall flat.
You’ll need about one cup of real hard parmesan, 1/2 cup of pecorino, two spoons of unsalted butter, about two spoons of coarsely cracked pepper, and about a half package of good durum and semolina spaghetti. You’ll need water and salt to boil that pasta and that’s it.
You’ll also need a large pot to boil the pasta, a sauce pan to make the sauce and toss the noodles, and a set of tongs.
A quick note on the cheese: If you can, get a nicely aged parmesan chunk. 24 months is a good standard aging that’ll give you a light umami taste, creaminess, and a semi-coarse texture. 30 months will be sharper and harder. The pecorino should also be something you buy in a big ol’ chunk. The pecorino is a lighter, nuttier, smoother, and a more in-your-face umami cheese. Taste the parmesan and pecorino side by side when you start to get a sense of how divergent these cheeses are. The parmesan should be subtle while the pecorino should be robust.