Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

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When done right, this is one of the best pasta dishes in the world. Seriously, it’s that good.

But that’s the trick, making sure you follow the simple, but important steps to get that authentic taste and texture. No butter or cream is used, just top-notch Pecorino Romano cheese and freshly ground black peppercorns that have been lightly toasted and crushed. Tonnarelli is classic, but plain spaghetti works wonderfully, too. Start with a nice Caesar Salad and finish the meal with homemade tiramisu for an Italian feast you won’t soon forget.

A white dinner plate filled with cacio e pepe with a fork nearby.

How To Make Authentic Cacio e Pepe

There aren’t a lot of steps in this recipe, and there are even fewer ingredients, but they are all so important.

This is one of those dishes that it’s worth it to seek out top-notch ingredients, which usually call for a little planning ahead of time. More on that in a moment.

But, it’s so much fun to make!


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The Ingredients You Will Need

Coarse Sea or Kosher Salt – You’ll need this to add to the water for boiling the pasta. You’d normally add twice this amount to the water, but Pecorino Romano is a fairly salty cheese, so half the amount is just right.

Pasta – Long tubular pasta is what you want. Spaghetti or bucatini is commonly used, but if you can find it (or order it online), then go with tonnarelli.

Pecorino Romano – This is cheese made from sheep’s milk and is used in authentic Cacio e Pepe. Seek out high-quality, if possible. The more aged the better. You can usually find this at Italian specialty markets or online.

Black Pepper – For the best results, toast whole peppercorns until fragrant and then crush them with a mortar and pestle.

EXPERT TIP: The best way to prepare the Pecorino Romano is to buy in block form and then use the small grate holes in a box grater to grate the cheese. You’ll need about 7 to 8 ounces. This may seem like a lot, but you’ll use almost all of it, if not all.

A person using a box grater to grate a block of Pecorino Romano cheese on a wooden cutting board.

Tips for Making Cacio e Pepe

Mise en Place – Once you’ve prepped the cheese and peppercorns, and you’re certain you have the correct measurements, you’ll want to have them all ready to go. The dish comes together quickly.

Adding Salted Pasta Water – Be sure to hold onto a least of the pasta water. You’ll want to add this, along with the grated Pecorino Romano, together while tossing the pasta. Ladle the water, about 1 cup at a time, along with the cheese.

Toast and Ground Peppercorns – This may not seem like a big deal, but it really does elevate the flavor. Place whole peppercorns in a large skillet and toast them on the stove over medium-high heat until they become aromatic. Remove from heat and transfer them to a mortar and pestle. It takes a little elbow grease, but ground them until they are mostly pulverized and slightly grey in color.

Black peppercorns being toasted in a large stainless steel skillet with a wooden spoon moving them around.
A person grinding black peppercorns in a mortar with a pestle.

How To Serve

This dish is absolutely best when served right after being tossed with pasta water, cheese, and pepper.

It makes for a wonderful appetizer or “primi” dish. Just before a wonderful main dish, or “secondi” dish, such as Italian pot roast, chicken piccata, or haddock agrodolce.

But it’s so flavorful and satisfying that you could serve it as the entree alongside a Ceasar salad and cheesy garlic bread.

WINE PAIRING: Cacio e Pepe pairs wonderfully with red, white, and/or rosé.  For white, a nice Pinot Grigio is our 1st choice. For red, Pinto Noir or Cabernet. For Rosé, we love Whispering Angel. 

EXPERT TIP: We add the pepper in while we’re tossing the pasta with the water and cheese.  We add at least 2 tablespoons. Be sure to have extra at the table for guests to add more to their liking. 

A person sprinkling ground black pepper all over a large pasta bowl filled with cooked tubular pasta.

Other Classic Pasta Dishes

We love all kinds of pasta dishes, here are some of our favorites and ones we think you’ll love, too.

Pesto Pasta
Pappardelle Bolognese
Fettuccine with Creamy Sausage Sauce
Best-Ever Baked Ziti
Classic Stuffed Shells
White Chicken Lasagna with Spinach
Creamy Shrimp Fettuccini

But in the meantime, you’ve got to try this classic Roman dish.

An overhead view of a large pasta bowl filled with tonnarelli cacio e pepe and two wooden spoons.

This dish is spectacular in its simplicity.

Plan ahead and do your best to get your hands on top-notch ingredients.

Follow the recipe closely and you’ll have a pasta dish that will rival any in town.

A person using a fork to lift up a helping of cacio e pepe from a white dinner plate.

Ready to make the best pasta dish on this side of Rome? Go for it!

And when you do, be sure to take a photo of it, post it on Instagram, and tag @HowToFeedaLoon and hashtag #HowToFeedaLoon!

A white dinner plate filled with cacio e pepe with a fork nearby.

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe is a popular Roman dish that is made from just 4 ingredients, including salt. Going with top-notch ingredients is key. Plan ahead of time. See out a high-quality Italian market or order online.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Appetizer or Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: how to make cacio e pepe, pasta with cheese and pepper recipe
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 478kcal


  • Pot for boiling pasta
  • Box grater for grating the Pecorino Romano
  • Mortar and pestle or spice grinder
  • Large pasta bowl


  • ½ cup black peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp coarse sea salt or coarse Kosher salt
  • 14 oz pasta tonnarelli or spaghetti
  • 10 oz Pecorino Romano grated


Do Ahead

  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the whole peppercorns and stir gently until they become aromatic, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  • Add to a mortar and pestle and grind them until they become powdery and grey in color, about 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

Prepare the Cacio e Pepe

  • Bring a large pot of boiling water to a boil. Add 2 tbsp of coarse salt.
  • Add the pasta to the water. Stir to keep the pasta from sticking together. A couple of minutes before the pasta becomes al dente, place your pasta bowl over the pot. (This heats the pasta bowl and helps to make a creamy sauce).
  • Use kitchen towels to remove the pasta bowl and check the pasta to make sure it's cooked to al dente.
  • Drain the pasta but save the water.
  • Add the pasta to the warmed pasta bowl. Working in batches, add the cheese and ladle in some pasta water, stirring everything together constantly.
  • Add about 2 tbsp of the ground pepper and keep stirring until the cheese and water create a creamy sauce that clings to the pasta. If too runny, add more cheese. If too thick, add more pasta water.
  • Serve immediately with additional ground pepper tableside.


See the video near the top of the blog post for visual guidance. If you liked the video, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. 
Dried spaghetti or bucatini are perfectly acceptable substitutions for the tonnarelli. 
Be sure to grate the cheese with the small holes on your box grater, not the larger shredding holes. This helps to make the perfect sauce. 
This dish is definitely best served right after tossing together. You can reheat with the addition of more pasta water. (Keep some on hand in case you have leftovers). 
We don't recommend freezing this dish.  


Calories: 478kcal | Carbohydrates: 64g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 49mg | Sodium: 2900mg | Potassium: 451mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 304IU | Calcium: 605mg | Iron: 3mg
Tried this recipe? Take a Picture!Mention @HowToFeedALoon or tag #HowToFeedALoon!

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