A classic Italian dish, Cacio e Pepe is literally “cheese and pepper pasta.” It’s the mac and cheese of Italy, but more delicious and romantic.
Since we’re on the subject of cooking as a couple, we wanted to share our latest cooking date with you. The recipe is from a new book called Date Night In, written by our friend Ashley Rodriguez (of Not Without Salt). It’s an incredible collection of meals from cooking dates with her husband, each with planning tips and a sweet personal anecdote. And their love story is ironically similar to ours: dorm food eating, 19-year old college sweethearts who grew up, got married, and fell in love with cooking good food together. Keep reading for the cacio e pepe recipe, and more about how we fell in love with it.
What is cacio e pepe?
This recipe, cacio e pepe, has a special place in Alex and my hearts. On our latest trip to Italy (a repeat of our honeymoon that we spent here and here), we shared a dinner at a little local Roman joint one night. My vegetable ravioli wasn’t quite what I expected, so Alex finished it off. I was feeling a little discouraged, so after ordering two big entrees, we decided to order another: cacio e pepe, the famous “cheese and pepper” pasta comfort food that’s akin to mac and cheese here in the States. The waitress looked at us like we were crazy, since we were ordering backwards and should have been at dessert at that point. No matter, we stuffed ourselves with cheesy pasta and rolled out into the street to finish it off with gelato!
How to make cacio e pepe
When I saw cacio e pepe in the book, I knew we’d have to give it a try. Ashley’s version also includes a Parmesan frico, a crispy cheese cracker, an interesting accompaniment for the pasta. And the pasta – oh, the pasta! This might be better than in Italy, truly. The Pecorino Romano cheese mixed with pasta water and a bit of butter comes into a creamy, peppery sauce that’s out of this world. Using bucatini, a pasta shape like spaghetti with a hole in it, is genius since it’s chewier and thicker than spaghetti. While it’s not a health food in itself, serve it with a simple green salad and homemade salad dressing for a quick and romantic meal at home. (Omit the frico for even quicker prep, or make it in advance.)
This book is extraordinarily beautiful and the theme of cooking as a couple for date night is superb. Hats off to Ashley for the fabulous date! (Though to be honest, ours started with shooting the photographs above and ended in cold pasta. Next time!)
Looking for pasta recipes?
This cacio e pepe recipe is one of our favorite pasta recipes! Here are a few more pasta recipes we love:
- Creamy Vegan Pasta Marinara
- Vegan Italian Pasta Salad
- Easy Vegan Korean Ramen
- Everything Bagel Pasta
- Vegetarian Spinach Meatballs and Spaghetti
This recipe is…
This Cacio e pepe recipe is vegetarian, and gluten-free with gluten-free pasta.Print
For the Parmesan frico
- 1 1/3 cups packed, freshly grated Parmesan cheese
For the pasta
- 8 ounces dried bucatini
- 3 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for finishing
- 1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
- Make the Parmesan frico:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Using 2/3 cup Parmesan, form a thick, even 6-inch circle of cheese on the parchment.
- Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cheese melts and is golden.
- Carefully remove the parchment from the tray and flip over onto an inverted bowl. Peel off the parchment and gently press the Parmesan circle around the inverted bowl. Cool for 30 seconds and then remove. Repeat with the remaining cheese. Frico can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container.
- Heat a large stockpot of heavily salted water. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions.
- While the pasta cooks, melt the butter with 1 teaspoon pepper in a large saute pan set of medium-low heat. Let the pepper infuse for 1 minute and then turn off the heat.
- When the pasta is al dente, before draining, remove a scant 1/2 cup pasta water and add to the butter. Simmer for 2 minutes over low heat.
- Drain the pasta and add to the saute pan, along with 3/4 cup Pecorino cheese. Toss the pasta in the sauce with tongs until the cheese has melted and created a creamy sauce that coats the pasta. If the sauce is still too wet, continue to simmer until the water has reduced and clings to the pasta.
- Place a Parmesan frico at the bottom of two bowls and divide the pasta between them. Finish with the remaining Pecorino and more freshly ground pepper.
By Ashley Rodriguez in Date Night In; reprinted with permission
About the Authors
Cookbook Author and writer
Sonja Overhiser is an acclaimed vegetarian cookbook author and cook based in Indianapolis. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Cookbook Author and photographer
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the “best vegetarian cookbooks” by Epicurious.