My Culinary Crush: Cacio e Pepe

That’s spaghetti with pecorino romano and black pepper. Oh, you thought it was going to be a chef? I can crush on food, right?  I mean I can eat food but I’ll never know any of these celebrity chefs.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of celebrity chefs who I think are totally dishy, but that’s a topic for another post…maybe.

I first learned about cacio e pepe when I saw Anthony Bourdain’s Roman episode of No Reservations.  It was so simple: spaghetti and romano cheese with pepper.  But this is not just pasta with cheese sprinkled on top.  The cheese is combined with some of the pasta water and made into a creamy sauce.  Basically, it’s like a sophisticated mac and cheese and it looked sooooo good, though not exactly nutritious.  But when in Rome, why bother worrying about nutrition?  Between pizza and pasta you just have to accept you’re going to load up on carbs.  I tried to make it at home without a recipe but failed miserably and left it at that.  I couldn’t even search for a recipe online because I didn’t actually know the real name of the dish. Then a few weeks ago they made the dish on America’s Test Kitchen and unlike some of their recipes, this one was actually quite simple.

Like a typical crush though, the dish is not exactly loving me back.  I can’t get it to come out right. The taste is great but I get a gritty, not a creamy sauce.  But then again, I don’t have some of the key ingredients in my pantry and have been improvising, so that most likely is the cause… For example, the recipe calls for real pecorino romano, and I have the pre-grated stuff in the green canister… They also want heavy cream to act as an emulsifier and I don’t even have whole milk, forget about cream, so I’ve used mayonnaise. I figure fat is fat and mayo should do the trick especially since they only want a little bit.  Well, it works OK, but I’ll definitely have to make this with the actual ingredients and follow the recipe.

So, being my usual self, I’m not happy with a dish as it is. I want to add to it.  So I’ve been experimenting with adding some sort of vegetable to the mix.  I made it with peas, which turned out quite nice. Then I made it with chopped spinach (frozen, nuked and wrung out). That turned out a little lumpy so I need to continue experimenting.  I made the spinach version for lunch today and tried to offer it off my plate to the Little Missy (sometimes she’ll eat food off your plate even when she refuses to eat the same stuff off her own plate). No go. She said, “No, that’s mommy’s.” Yup, with the green stuff in it, it’s definitely not her food! Perhaps this dish just needs to stay and be enjoyed in its original form.

Here’s the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.  If you want to check out the online version, you’ll need to register to use the website. It’s definitely worth it though as you get free access to the recipes each season.

Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper (Cacio e Pepe)

From the episode: Simply Italian

Serves 4 to 6

High-quality ingredients are essential in this dish, most importantly, imported Pecorino Romano—not the bland domestic cheese labeled “Romano.” Use the small holes on a box grater to grate the cheese finely and the large holes to grate it coarsely. Alternatively, a food processor may be used to grate it finely: Cut the Pecorino into 2-inch pieces and process until finely ground, about 45 seconds. For a slightly less rich dish, substitute half-and-half for the heavy cream. Do not adjust the amount of water for cooking the pasta. Stir the pasta frequently while cooking so that it doesn’t stick to the pot. Letting the dish rest briefly before serving allows the flavors to develop and the sauce to thicken.


  • 6 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese , 4 ounces finely grated (about 2 cups) and 2 ounces coarsely grated (about 1 cup) (see note)
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  •   Table salt
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper


  • 1. Place finely grated Pecorino in medium bowl. Set colander in large bowl.
  • 2. Bring 2 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven. Add pasta and 1½ teaspoons salt; cook, stirring frequently, until al dente. Drain pasta into colander set in bowl, reserving cooking water. Pour 1½ cups cooking water into liquid measuring cup and discard remainder; return pasta to now-empty bowl.
  • 3. Slowly whisk 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water into finely grated Pecorino until smooth. Whisk in cream, oil, and black pepper. Gradually pour cheese mixture over pasta, tossing to coat. Let pasta rest 1 to 2 minutes, tossing frequently, adjusting consistency with remaining ½ cup reserved pasta water. Serve, passing coarsely grated Pecorino separately.



Imported Pecorino Romano is a hard, aged sheep’s milk cheese with a distinctively pungent, salty flavor that bears almost no resemblance to domestic cheeses simply labeled “Romano.” (These wan stand-ins are made with cow’s milk and lack the punch of the real deal.) When you pick out your cheese, check the label carefully to be sure what you are getting is the real deal.


This name-controlled import is worth seeking out.

America’s Test Kitchen is a 2,500-square-foot kitchen located just outside of Boston. It is the home of Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated magazines and is the workday destination for more than three dozen test cooks, editors, and cookware specialists. Our mission is to test recipes until we understand how and why they work and arrive at the best version. We also test kitchen equipment and supermarket ingredients in search of brands that offer the best value and performance. You can watch us work by tuning in to America’s Test Kitchen ( on public television.

This entry was posted in America's Test Kitchen, Anthony Bourdain, cheese, comfort food, macaroni and cheese, Pasta, quick. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to My Culinary Crush: Cacio e Pepe

  1. Heff says:

    Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but when a recipe is simple, each ingredient counts. Really, really counts. The stuff in the green can has no reason to exist and should not be called “cheese.” It’s flavorless and gritty and does not melt. And while fat _is_ fat, that’s really only from a digestive point of view. Your body will process a gram of egg-and-oil fat the same way it will process dairy fat, but the two will not act– or taste– the same way in a sauce.

    • Thanks for reading, Heff. I don’t doubt it for a minute that decent cheese would make a world of difference in this recipe. All I happened to have on hand was the stuff in the green can. Some day I’ll plan ahead and get the good stuff. I have made this a few more times and have gotten better results.

  2. Oxy says:

    Wasn’t that on “The Layover” not “No Reservations”?

  3. Hi Oxy, It was definitely on “No Reservations” but I haven’t caught any episodes of “The Layover” yet so I can’t say whether it’s been on that too. Is it a good show? Speaking of layovers, a friend of mine highly recommends a noodle place at the Amsterdam airport. I don’t remember the name or which terminal but apparently it’s next to the Swarovski store (assuming it’s in the International terminal).

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