Of all the classic Roman recipes, few command the loyalty of both travelers and locals like cacio e pepe, “cheese and pepper.” Indeed, it reigns supreme as Rome’s undisputed king of comfort food. For thousands of years, Romans have sustained themselves on this very simple, yet oh-so-satisfying, cheesy pasta dish.
Most historians believe cacio e pepe originated in the Apennine Mountains. Hardworking shepherds needed easy and filling meals made from ingredients that wouldn’t spoil quickly. Dried pasta, pecorino romano and black pepper fit the bill. And, yes, traditional cacio e pepe uses only three ingredients: tonnarelli pasta, pecorino cheese and fresh ground pepper. No butter. No oil. Not even other cheeses or spices. Even today, cacio e pepe is considered Rome’s most iconic pasta dish. Thus, most restaurants in Rome serves this staple, delighting both locals and travelers.
How to Make Rome’s Most Famous Pasta Dish
Even if the extent of your cooking expertise is pouring cereal into a bowl, you can master cacio e pepe! To make authentic cacio e pepe, however, you must avoid the temptation to add a lot of enhancements. All you need is water, salt, pepper, tonnarelli pasta and high-quality pecorino romano cheese.
First, boil salted water and add tonnarelli pasta, cooking until it’s just barely al dente. Before pouring the pasta into a colander, reserve a few cups of pasta water for later. Next, pour about one cup of reserved pasta water into another pot and add pepper. Bring this mixture to a boil and then put in the pasta, adding more reserved pasta water if needed. Finally, add in grated pecorino romano cheese and keep stirring until it reaches a creamy consistency. Lastly, put the pasta into a serving bowl and add a bit more pepper or grated cheese if desired.
Why Tonnarelli & Not Spaghetti?
By now, the foodies out there have no doubt noticed that the traditional pasta used in making cacio e pepe is tonnarelli rather than spaghetti. Most cacio e pepe recipes you’ll find online use spaghetti because it’s more readily available. Many chefs, however, consider the taste of traditional tonnarelli (which is like a thicker, egg-based spaghetti) better complements the cheese sauce. You could, of course, substitute whatever pasta you feel more comfortable with, but authentic cacio e pepe uses tonnarelli. Done. Full stop.