How to make a perfect Cacio e Pepe?

(disclaimer: I have adapted this article several times! I finally re-wrote it on the 18th of February, 2023)

Pepper, pecorino and pasta. Add trial and error, and you get a classic Roman dish. This is a brilliant primo or a quick dinner when your fridge is empty. But it is extremely hard to execute well because you need to control the heat. The cheese will become stringy if you heat up your pan too much (above 70 °C or 158 °F). I tested all the methods, so you do not need to!

Cacio e Pepe is rare in restaurants because it is hard to serve warm without the corn starch trick. This trick is part of a “foolproof method” from the video from Luciano Monosilio on Italia Squisita (also embedded below).

Sometime after I first published this article declaring Monosilio’s method as the best one, Ethan Chlebowski published a deep dive into the dish, adapting the “foolproof method”. Because Monosilio, for obvious reasons, did not reveal the recipe used in his restaurant, Chlebowski improvised. He used a combination of Pecorino and Parmigiano, while Monosilio used Pecorino and Grana. This video motivated me to try the foolproof method myself, but a year later. 😅

Here are the results:

I went for 80g Pecorino + 80g Grana, 100 ml water and 8g corn starch because the quantities in Chlebowski’s published recipe are 250g cheese vs 225g pasta, which is way off (or intended for storage). I needed to add water to the mixture, so I would next time go for more water (around 120ml). The main problem of the “foolproof method” is the quantity: you cannot go much lower than 150g of cheese unless you have a mini blender for 60g. Monosilio calls for a tbsp of the mixture per person and what looks like 80g of pasta.

If you really like this dish, you should probably improvise yourself a couple of times. I mean, how many KINGS OF CACIO E PEPE live in your street?

And the conclusion?

The “foolproof method” is the best if you want to impress, but it is also the messiest and the least clear from the recipe side. If you would serve it as an excellent primo for several people, go for it. Otherwise, stick with the Classic or the easiest one.

🥇 Best method for yourself + another person: Luciano Monosilio, “Classic method.”
🥇 Best method for more people: Luciano Monosilio, “Foolproof method.”
🤓 Easiest method: The Bowl method (h/t @Goan on Twitter)

I checked many recipes with different pasta-to-cheese ratios (1.5-4x). I liked 2.5-3x more pasta than cheese the most, but you should do you!

Ingredients (for 1 hungry person) for Classic & Easiest method:

- 160g of high quality bronze die pressed pasta (linguine, spaghetti, bucatini* if you find them)
- 50g of finely grated pecorino + some for dusting 
- 1 tsp of ground pepper (can be toasted bofore)
- salt

*bucatini cannot really be bent, so you need to cook them in a pan
General notes

- salt your pasta water less than usual (the least possible amount of water to increase the starch level)
- grate your cheese as fine as possible
- 2.5-3.0x more pasta than cheese, 1tsp of peppercorns per 160g of pasta
- mixing pecorino with parmesan also works (50-50 or whatever you like)
- toasting the peppercorns is optional (do not kill me, Luciano)
- never finish over too high heat, unless you want stringy shit cheese
🥇 Best method ("Classic" from Luciano Monosilio 🙏)

Watch the 5 min video below as well (English subtitles available) and then use my interpretation for additional guidance.

1. put grated cheese and ground (toasted) pepper in a pan (off heat!)
2. cook pasta until al dente (in lightly salted water)
3. save some pasta water after 3/4 cooked in a separate bowl so it cools down a bit

4. add a bit cooled down pasta water to the pan (how much water? Start slowly adding so it melts the cheese - God help us, this is totally a feeling thing, but you should not add too much!)
5. mix the cheese, water and pepper with a rubber spatula to create a sauce

6. after pasta is cooked, drain it and set aside so it cools down a bit, maybe 2 min

7. add pasta to the pan, start creaming, mixing with a spatula until its nicely mixed
(observe in the video how he is constantly mixing and tossing the pasta)

8. now add the pan to a gentle heat again, but careful, it should not heat up too much; cheese will get stringy if it's heated above 70 degrees

9. mix with spatula and toss until it received some more heat (mixing and tossing constantly)

10. remove from the heat and add more pecorino on top, toss and cream again

Serve and amaze your guests and yourself by saying: "Dear dear, how simple and how good"

This is a dish which requires feeling and practice. But it is really worth it.
🤓 Easiest method: The Bowl method (h/t @Goan on Twitter)

(mix cheese and pepper)
1. cook pasta to al dente

2. boil water in a kettle 
3. add boiled water to a separate bowl so it heats it up a bit and then remove water
3. add drained cooked pasta, cheese & pepper to the bowl
4. gradually add slightly cooled down pasta water

5. toss and mix until perfection, adding more water if needed

6. serve and thank yourself for being so resourceful
Honorable mentions

Making the sauce by the emulsion method. These are harder, because you need to be spot on with the ratio of pasta and water. Some recipes call for frying ground pepper on olive oil (eg. Samin Nosrat) before adding the water to the pan. Or finishing the pasta in the pan (like for 4 min) together with the pepper and water, but again, you will struggle much more with the quantity of water. 

Here are two variations:

Method 1 (Stephen Cusato, cheese paste, video below): add pasta water to cheese, making a paste, finish cooking the pasta in the pan by adding water gradually, add the cheese paste to the pan, toss and mix until perfection
Method 2 (no cheese paste): add grated cheese in gradually (three times worked great), toss and mix until perfection. I found this one working better.

If you wanna geek out more, here is an interesting Guardian article. After Chlebowski, Cusato also made another video with all the methods summarized. For my taste he uses too much cheese, plus I always had mixed results with the emulsion methods, so I stand by my call above.
Cacio e Pepe
How to make a perfect Cacio e Pepe