Salt and Pepper Pasta turns simple pantry staples into a decadent lunch, quick comforting dinner, or an impressive late-night snack! Salty hard cheese, pasta water and freshly ground black pepper are combined in a delicious, versatile sauce based on the Italian classic pasta recipe, Cacio e Pepe.
What is Cacio e Pepe?
Originally from Rome, traditional Cacio e Pepe (literally “cheese and pepper”) is made from pasta, Pecorino and black pepper. A super simple but rave-worthy recipe proving that sometimes the most simple things in life really are the very best.
I was first introduced to Cacio e Pepe on the No Reservations episode where Anthony Bourdain visits Rome and eats a dish so good he refuses to disclose the restaurant’s name for fear that tourists would ruin the experience.
Watching simple pantry staples being turned into a dish THAT good was so inspiring. And Salt and Pepper Pasta has been a star on my table, in some budget-friendly version or another, ever since.
I’ll save you the googling… the episode is No Reservations, Rome season 6, episode 20 and is available to stream on both Hulu and Amazon Prime Video 😉
- Pasta – a light, thin sauce needs a substantial pasta to add heft to the bite. But although spaghetti, bucatini, fettuccine, linguine, and wide egg noodles are ideal any pasta can be used.
- Parmesan – or any shredded, flaked or grated salty hard cheese. If you can find a block of Pecorino Romano choose that and grind it fresh into soft piles of cheese. Otherwise any will do. Even the powdery, green canister stuff in a severe pinch.
- Black pepper – a mix of fine and coarse freshly ground pepper ensures every bite is coated in layers of black pepper flavor. Of course any ground black pepper can be substituted.
- Butter – traditional cacio e pepe does not contain butter, so feel free to leave it out and add a splash more cooking water and cheese.
Step by step instructions
Salt and Pepper Pasta can be made as simply as tossing cooked pasta with pepper and Parmesan in a bowl until coated, adding cooking liquid as needed to make it creamy. Zero point two seconds to delicious. I prefer to take it up a notch building the sauce in a pan and finishing the pasta in the warm sauce so it absorbs all the salty, peppery flavor.
- Bring salted water to a boil and cook pasta until *almost* al dente, about 2 -3 minutes before the package says it’s done, depending on the pasta.
- Drain pasta, reserving about a cup of the pasta water.
- Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat to build the Salt and Pepper Sauce. Add freshly ground pepper to pan until fragrant then about ½ cup of pasta water. Stir in butter and half the cheese while bringing to a simmer.
- Add drained pasta to simmering sauce and continue cooking until finished, about 2 minutes longer.
- Remove from heat. Using tongs toss pasta while adding remaining Parmesan until sauce is thick, creamy and coats pasta.
- Serve immediately garnished with additional black pepper and grated Parmesan.
Make it your own
Looking for something else to serve with Salt and Pepper Pasta besides possibly wine and a dressed salad? Make it our own! A simple pasta sauce recipe like this is a blank slate for anything you want to serve on it; or with it!
- ¾ cup Parmesan cheese grated
- 8 ounces fettuccine or other sturdy pasta shape
- 3 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 tablespoon black pepper freshly cracked
- Bring roughly 3 ½ cups water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Using package directions, par-cook pasta until almost done, about 2 minutes less than instructed depending on shape. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat warm black pepper for a few seconds before pouring in half the reserved pasta water and whisking in the butter.
- Bring to a simmer then add drained pasta and continue cooking until it absorbs a bit of the sauce and becomes perfectly al dente, about 2 minutes longer.
- Remove from heat. Using tongs toss pasta with half the Parmesan, adding remaining cheese and pasta water as needed until the sauce is thick and creamy.
- Serve immediately topped with additional black pepper and Parmesan cheese.
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