This Cacio e Pepe Macaroni and Cheese recipe is inspired by the classic Italian pasta, Cacio e Pepe. This has ground up toasted black peppercorns, lots of Parmesan mixed into a cheesy sauce that thickly coats your favorite pasta!
In my brain a few weeks ago, I was craving cacio e pepe but I also wanted it to be cheesy. Cacio e pepe enthusiasts and purists will scoff at this recipe but the rest of us who love cheesy cheese and black pepper, will love it. I can’t win them all.
What is Cacio e Pepe?
Cacio e Pepe is a pasta Roman dish that literally translates to “cheese and pasta.” It consists of simple ingredients: Pecorino-Romano, black peppercorns and pasta. It’s a truly simple dish but it requires technique and a bit of skill to nail.
This is the quickest weeknight meal and it’s also delicious to serve people on the weekends when you want something chill that will make everyone smile.
How to Make this Cacio e Pepe Macaroni and Cheese
- Toast the peppercorns. And then transfer them to a mortar and pestle (or you could use a spice blender) and grind them up into small grounds.
- Cook the pasta. I used cavatappi. But you could use whatever shape you like! I like to cook it a minute or two under.
- Make the roux. Melt the butter and add the flour. And then, when everything is combined, you pour in the milk.
- Thicken the roux. When the roux is has thickened, you add the cheese. As a result, the sauce will become all delicious and cheesy.
- Add the black pepper. This is the “cacio” part.
- Mix in the pasta. And then, add the pasta. Give it a nice stir so the pasta is evenly coated in the sauce.
- Top it with more black pepper, Pecorino and serve!
If you make this Cacio e Pepe Macaroni and Cheese, let me know on Instagram!
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 pound cavatappi or pasta of choice
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 3 ounces Parmesan-Reggiano, finely grated
- Kosher salt
To Toast the Peppercorns:
- In a small skillet, set over medium heat, add the peppercorns and toast for about 3 to 4 minutes, until fragrant. Transfer them to a mortar and pestle and grind them until they’re pulverized. If you don’t own a mortar and pestle, no worries! You can transfer them to a cutting board and smash them with the bottom of a clean pan. You can also use a large chef’s knife. Set the crushed peppercorns aside.
To Make the Macaroni and Cheese:
- Bring a pot or Dutch oven of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente (my pasta took about 7 minutes). Reserve about a cup of pasta water. I usually scoop it out with a dry cup measure. Drain the pasta and drizzle with a teeny bit of olive oil (this will prohibit them from sticking to each other).
- In a medium saucepan or Dutch oven, set over medium heat, melt the butter. When the butter has melted, add the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in the milk and bring to a simmer; cook until it’s thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. It should coat the back of a spoon. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for about 2 minutes.
- Next, add the mozzarella, Parmesan-Reggiani and a few generous pinches of black pepper. If needed, turn the heat to medium-low to completely melt the cheese. Give it a taste and add salt to taste (I ended up adding about 1/2 teaspoon of salt but this will really depend on the salt content in the cheeses you’re using).
- Stir in the pasta and add some more black pepper if you like. Toss until evenly coated. Mix in about a 1/4 cup of pasta water. This will give it a bit of a creamier consistency. Add a bit more if you like. I ended up adding about a 1/2 cup of pasta water in total. Divide amongst bowls and top with a bit more black pepper as garnish.
Looking for more pasta recipes? Here are some of my favorites: