What intrigues me about cacio e pepe is not only its simplicity, but the story behind its origins in Italy. This dish is sourced from the Roman diet. Cacio, meaning pecorino cheese, is a sheep's milk cheese that has been produced for ages along the Mediterranean.

Romans spread this cheese through their empire, bringing the rise of its popularity. The Romans also had sufficient amounts of pepper, or pepe, which was once an expensive and precious spice used for currency.

Those who favored eating this dish, however, were the shepherds who spent long months outside herding livestock. The men carried pecorino, optimal for travel as it does not spoil, pepper, which helped generate body heat in the cold months, and pasta, which helped give the men necessary energy from the carbohydrates.

This could help explain why all I want after a long workout is a large plate of cacio e pepe

Traditionally, this recipe is very uncomplicated, using only spaghetti (along with its pasta water), Roman grated pecorino cheese, and ground pepper. The recipe below, which I adapted from Bon Appetit, is a more modern rendition which simply adds parmesan and butter to the other three ingredients. 

Madelyn Gagnon

Cacio e Pepe

  • Prep Time:10 mins
  • Cook Time:20 mins
  • Total Time:30 mins
  • Servings:4
  • Easy


  • Kosher salt
  • 12 oz spaghetti
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese or Grana Padano
  • 2/3 cup finely grated pecorino
Madelyn Gagnon

First things first, you need to boil and salt the pasta water. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente (around 2-3 mins before the pasta is fully cooked). Before draining the finished pasta, save    1 1/2 cups of pasta water for making the sauce. In a saucepan, add 4 tbsp of butter and the ground pepper. Cook for one minute over medium heat. Add in the pasta and 1 cup of the pasta water (you may want to add more later if it's not looking saucy enough), along with the additional butter. Turn the heat to low and add in the parmesan while tossing the pasta. Lastly, take the pan off the heat and add the pecorino. Mix in the cheese until it has all melted. 

The cacio e pepe should be served immediately to fully enjoy this pasta experience!

Madelyn Gagnon

Cacio e pepe is so much more than a hip food Instagram post. This pasta dish has a rich history that deserves respect. If you're the kind of person who likes to "do as the Romans do," try out this recipe and taste the delicious simplicity that this pasta has to offer!