If you are a Cacio e Pepe traditionalist, you should stop reading now.
Because there’s next to nothing traditional about this recipe.
And it may offend you.
Traditional Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e pepe is a traditional Roman staple. The name of the dish translates to “cheese and pepper” in English. So this is literally cheese and pepper pasta.
The simplest of cacio e pepe recipes use only black pepper, Pecorino Romano, and butter or olive oil.
The world doesn’t need another traditional cacio e pepe recipe. And if it did, that recipe would be found in Rome.
But that doesn’t mean traditional cacio e pepe can’t be adjusted, with some complementary flavors added, and a fool-proof cooking method applied.
My White Pepper Cacio e Pepe
That’s what I’ve done with my White Pepper Cacio e Pepe with Lemon recipe.
Yes, the title’s a bit redundant, but it’s important to make clear one of the biggest ways my recipe diverges from the traditional: I use white pepper.
White Pepper vs. Black Pepper
White pepper comes from the same plant as black pepper, and both start as peppercorns. But unlike black pepper, white pepper comes from peppercorns that are picked at peak ripeness, then soaked in water. Fermentation results, the outer layer of the peppercorn is removed, and only the inner seed is used to make ground white pepper.
The skin of the peppercorn is where most of that peppery, spicy flavor comes from. So white pepper is a bit more mild and sweet than black pepper.
Which means my white pepper cacio e pepe has a really unique, mildly sweet and peppery flavor.
Not traditional, but absolutely delicious.
Other Non-traditional Components
My other change here is the addition of lemon. Traditional cacio e pepe doesn’t use it.
But lemon and pepper are such a complementary match, I couldn’t resist. And now, I don’t think I could make cacio e pepe without adding some freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Basil and garbanzo beans are a few more untraditional, yet complementary components of my recipe. And I love how the garbanzo beans make this pasta dish more of a meal.
Cooking White Pepper Cacio e Pepe
The final untraditional element of my recipe is the cooking method itself. The hardest part about traditional cacio e pepe is timing—getting the sauce and the pasta ready to incorporate at the same time.
But with my recipe, you make the sauce first, then add the pasta. It means you’ll see the cheese clump together a bit as you heat it with the olive oil and butter. But rest assured, once you put the sauce and pasta together, everything will get smooth and creamy.
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Make White Pepper Cacio e Pepe!
So on that inevitable weeknight that you need a fast, easy, and delicious pasta dish, make my White Pepper Cacio e Pepe with Lemon.
A Few Things
You should be able to find white pepper at the grocery store. I know Whole Foods carries it. But I’ve been impressed with Amazon’s brand, which you can find here [aff. link].
Also, be sure to use a really good olive oil!
Here is my absolute favorite olive oil, straight from the Panagiotopoulos Family’s olive groves in Greece [aff. link].
Last, I highly recommend using a Microplane cheese grater to grate the Parmesan and Pecorino in this recipe. A Microplane grater will result in more finely grated cheese, which will melt better into the oil and butter. Here is my favorite Microplane grater for cheese on Amazon [aff. link].
White Pepper Cacio e Pepe with Lemon
For the pasta:
- 12 oz spaghetti
- 4 cups water
- 1 tsp sea salt
For the sauce:
- 3 Tbsp butter
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice
- ½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated, preferably with a Microplane grater
- ½ cup Pecorino, freshly grated, preferably with a Microplane grater
- ½ cup pasta water
- ½ tsp white pepper
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp basil, chiffonade
- 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained
- Additional basil chiffonade and Parmesan, for serving
Make the sauce
- Add the white pepper and ¼ tsp salt to a large skillet. Turn the heat to medium-low, and toast the white pepper for 30 seconds, until lightly browned.
- Now add the butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil. Stir until the butter melts, and the butter, olive oil, and white pepper combine.
Add the cheese, olive oil, and lemon
- Keeping the pan on medium-low, add one third of the Pecorino and one third of the Parmesan, and stir to combine.
- Now add another Tbsp of olive oil. Stir, and add another third of the Pecorino, and another third of the Parmesan.
- Turn the heat down to low, and add the remaining olive oil, ¼ tsp salt, and the rest of the Pecorino and Parmesan.
- Keep stirring until the cheese is melted, and mostly incorporated. Don’t worry if the cheese clumps at this point, it will all smooth out when we add the pasta.
- Turn the heat off, and add 2 Tbsp lemon juice. Set the sauce aside, and make the pasta.
Make the pasta
- To a large pot, add 1 tsp sea salt and 4 cups water. Bring the water to a boil, then add the spaghetti. Cook the spaghetti until it's about ¾ of the way cooked through, about 9-11 minutes. Stir the spaghetti almost constantly to ensure that it cooks evenly and doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Drain the spaghetti, reserve the pasta water
- Once the spaghetti is ¾ of the way cooked through, drain any remaining pasta water, reserving ½ cup.
Add the spaghetti to the sauce
- Add the drained spaghetti to the pan with the sauce, and turn the heat on to medium.
- With tongs or a spoon and fork, toss the spaghetti into the sauce until coated. Now add the reserved ½ cup pasta water. Keep tossing for about 2 minutes, until the sauce gets creamy and completely coats the spaghetti, and the spaghetti is cooked al dente, about 2 minutes.
Add the garbanzo beams, basil, and lemon juice
- Turn the heat off, and stir in the drained garbanzo beans, basil, and remaining 1 Tbsp lemon juice.
- If your skillet is not big enough to hold everything, you can transfer the spaghetti and sauce to the large pot you cooked the spaghetti in, then toss in the garbanzo beans, basil, and lemon juice.
Serve and enjoy!
- Serve immediately, with additional basil and Parmesan sprinkled over each serving, if desired.