Cacio e Pepe takes minimalism to a whole new level, yet the dish is grounded deeply in Roman history. During the Roman empire, sheep roamed the Apennine Mountains during the spring and summer months, their nomadic shepherds would camp alongside them. With months of travel ahead of them, shepherds turned to cacio e pepe for most meals. The three simple ingredients; homemade dried pasta, pecorino, and black pepper, were portable and did not spoil easily.
As the shepherd walked with the sheep and collected their milk, he would let it age to create a pecorino cheese. In the evening when the sheep began to settle and the sun began to set, the shepherds would set up camp. He would bring the water to a boil, cooking the homemade pasta over an open fire. Then, he would grate the cheese into a separate bowl along with ground black pepper, and once the pasta was cooked al dente, he took a couple of spoonfuls of the starchy pasta water and mixed it with the grated pecorino. After putting the pasta into the creamy sauce, he would have a substantial meal to enjoy beneath the stars.
Around the world, there have been many modifications added, such as the addition of cream, butter, and olive oil, but the dishes beauty comes in its traditional simplicity. The sauce is formed from the combination of the starch in the pasta water and grated pecorino cheese. With a bit of pepper and extra cheese for garnish, there is no need for the extra ingredients. While Americanized versions of the dish may taste richer to some, many Romans prefer Cacio e Pepe in its original form. The fresher and higher quality the ingredients, the richer the dish will taste.
If you are looking for delicious yet simple food in Rome, cacio e pepe is a great dish to explore the traditional roman cuisine. If you get hungry while walking the cobblestone roads and looking at the marble sculptures that appear on nearly every street corner, Cacio e Pepe is served at almost every restaurant in the ancient city.
A great restaurant in Rome to get the traditional dish is Da Felice, which is dedicated to serving authentic Roman cuisine and makes cacio e pepe with the utmost attention to traditionalism. The open brick-faced interior is both cozy and elegant and is the perfect place to spend a romantic evening.
Many of the stops on the Walking Palates food tour in Rome serve the dish and allow you to learn more about cacio e pepe as you give it a try.
While having the dish in Rome takes the cake for the most authentic experience, making the dish at home is also incredibly affordable and simple, allowing you to turn any weeknight dinner into a luxury meal.
Cacio e Pepe Recipe
- 11 oz high-quality Italian pasta (preferably tonnarelli)
- Grated pecorino or cacio cheese
- Black Pepper, coarsely ground
While many chefs around the world have added butter and other ingredients to the dish, these four ingredients are all you need to make the traditionally simplistic dish.
To create the dish, follow the steps that the shepherds took in the roman empire (but in a modern kitchen, unless you prefer to cook over an open fire!)
- Bring water to a boil with a pinch of salt.
- Add high-quality Italian pasta (tonnarelli) to the water once it has reached a roaring boil.
- While the pasta is cooking, grate the pecorino or cacio cheese into a separate bowl, grinding the pepper in with grated cheese.
- Once the pasta is cooked al dente, take a couple of tablespoons of the starchy pasta water and add it to the grated cheese and pepper. Whisk until combined into a creamy sauce.
- Drain and rinse pasta, adding it into the sauce. Garnish with extra grated cheese, salt, and pepper.
Whether you are lavishly twirling some cacio e pepe onto your fork at a restaurant in Rome, serving up the dish at your own dining room table, or even eating it under the stars as the shepherds did, this dish is full of simple elegance and is sure to be a delightful meal.