Bucatini Cacio e Pepe is a traditional Roman sheep herder’s pasta recipe. It is about as simple as it gets since you’ll need only four very basic ingredients. Those are bucatini pasta, black peppercorns, Pecorino Romano cheese, and some of the pasta cooking water. It looks and sounds easy to make but even the most seasoned cooks sometimes get tripped up on this one.
The trick is all must be made simultaneously! The actual dish must be made quickly once the pasta is nearly done. Furthermore, making a delicate cheese sauce with only water and peppercorns can add an element of difficulty if certain steps aren’t followed. To keep the cheese sauce from clumping up the sauce should be added to the pasta off the heat. There is no need to “cook” the cheese. The residual heat from the pasta with the addition of the hot pasta water is enough heat to create that delicious cacio e pepe creamy texture that you’re looking for.
Also, in this cacio e pepe recipe, I added some caciocavallo cheese (cheese on horseback) that is popular in southern Italy. This cheese has a different melting temperature than the Pecorino. Therefore I add the cheeses separately. First, make the traditional cacio e peppe cream with the Pecorino Romano cheese, and once that is perfect quickly toss in the caciocavallo cheese (always off the heat) adding a little hot pasta water to maintain a nice thick yet creamy sauce consistency. If you can’t find caciocavallo cheese just use all Pecorino Romano. Traditionally, this cheese is the only cheese used to make cacio e pepe so you’ll still be well on your way to making an authentic Roman sheep heard’s pasta — cacio e pepe!
Bucatini Cacio e Pepe (Roman Sheep Herder’s Pasta)
- 6 ounces bucatini pasta
- 1 tablespoon very coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 cup reserved pasta water (used to begin the sauce with the peppercorns)
- 1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
- 1/2 cup pasta water to create the Pecorino Roman cream
- 1/2 cup medium grated caciocavallo cheese (optional)
- salt to taste
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
- While waiting for the water to boil grate the cheeses and keep them separate.
- Now measure out the cracked peppercorns.
Cooking the Pasta and Making the Sauce
- Once the pasta water has come to a boil add the bucatini and gently stir to submerge all.
- Add the black peppercorns to a pan and lightly toast them for 2-3 minutes. Stay attentive so as not to burn them.
- Now add the one cup of pasta water to the toasted peppercorns and hold it aside until the pasta is ready.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl add the Pecorino Roman cheese and drizzle in the 1/2 cup of pasta water while whisking.
Tip: The cheese should have a ricotta-like consistency once the hot water has been whisked in.
- Drain the pasta about three minutes before it’s done.
- Reserve at least two cups of water to adjust the sauce as needed.
- Add the drained pasta to the pan with the peppercorns.
- Bring the paan to a simmer to allow the past to finish cooking in the pepper water to absorb its flavor.
- Now turn off the heat and add the Pecorino cream and toss well to coat the pasta. Add a little more pasta water if the sauce is too thick and it’s difficult to toss.
Tip: At this point taste for salt and adjust accordingly.
- Sprinkle in the caciocavallo cheese and quickly toss it through. Add a tad more of the reserved pasta water to maintain a nice thick creamy consistency.
Tip: This should take about one minute. No more! If you keep tossing and adding hot water the cheeses will lump up. So, keep that in mind.
- Taste one more time for salt and adjust if necessary.
- At this point give the pasta one last good toss to coat it with the cheese and pepper sauce and serve it immediately.
- Crack some fresh pepper over the dish and ENJOY!