Cacio e Pepe Pasta Risotto – This classic Italian pasta dish made with fresh ground pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese, is made “risotto-style” with short ditalini pasta so you can make a lot of servings at once.
I love pasta. I’ve always loved pasta. But my love went to a whole other level when I visited Eataly in Boston. It’s a food emporium geared to all-things Italian: gourmet cheeses, Nutella, gelato, pasta, olive oil. If it’s Italian, they have it.
We went to Eataly because I was disappointed in the Italian food we found in the Little Italy neighborhood of Boston. The pasta was blah and the olive oil was so bland that I’m convinced it was mostly vegetable oil. So I made a reservation to the pasta restaurant in Eataly for lunch the next day. I had heard great things about the restaurants there so it was my last hope for a great Italian meal during our Boston trip.
Oh. my. pasta. It was incredible! Not only was my pasta dish to die for, but I also had the best fresh mozzarella of my life. The food was so great that I had to go to Eataly again when I visited Chicago. They have a handful of locations throughout the US, none of which are anywhere near Atlanta so anytime I am near one, I have to go!
So what pasta dish did I have there during my first visit? I decided to try a traditional pasta dish that I’ve never had before but heard lots about, mostly because Chrissy Teigan raves about it: Cacio e pepe. Cacio e pepe is a very simple dish made from spaghetti cooked in a sauce of butter, olive oil, Pecorino Romano cheese, a little pasta water, and fresh cracked black pepper. The simple flavors in this dish come together to make quite an incredible combination.
Since then, cacio e pepe is one of my favorite dishes to make at home. It’s super easy to make in small portions but I was struggling to figure out how to make it for a crowd. And then it hit me…I’ll make it risotto-style by cooking it slowly in a large pan!
And here it is!
How this pasta risotto is made
Risotto is a traditionally rice dish that is cooked slowly so it can absorb the chicken broth slowly and turn ultra creamy in the process. My idea for this cacio e pepe dish was to cook it the exact same way, but with pasta instead of rice. To make this happen, I had to use a short pasta. I chose ditalini because I love the hollow shape, but you can use any short pasta: macaroni, orzo, etc.
Now that you’ve got the pasta picked out, let’s talk about the other main ingredients.
The key flavors in cacio e pepe are olive oil, butter, Pecorino Romano cheese, and fresh cracked black pepper. We add the butter, olive oil, and half of the black pepper in the beginning so those flavors carry throughout the process. It’s important for the pepper to cook in the oil in the beginning so that the pepper flavor stands out once the risotto is complete. I went ahead and cooked the onions in the oil too since they need to soften up.
The Pecorino Romano cheese is added at the end of the process so that the flavor doesn’t cook out.
Risotto is made by cooking rice very slowly so it can absorb liquid without turning mushy and instead becomes super luscious and creamy. This pasta risotto is made the exact same way.
First, you start by cooking the onions in the black pepper olive oil and butter. Then, you add in white wine to deglaze the pan. Once the wine has reduced by half, the pasta is added with 2 cups of broth. Once the pasta has absorbed all that liquid, you will add in the rest of the broth 1 cup of a time.
The pasta will begin absorbing the liquid slowly. It will take about 30 minutes for the pasta to absorb it all. But I promise you – the resulting dish will be so creamy and cheesy and worth every minute you spent cooking it.
Tips & Tricks
- Make sure you dice the onions as small as you can. It’s best to have the onions the same size or smaller than your pasta so that it doesn’t overpower each bite.
- The broth and the cheese have lots of salt so you probably won’t need to add much to this dish. Therefore, I advise that you wait until the end to season this dish to ensure it doesn’t taste too salty.
- I only used 5 cups of broth in my version because I didn’t want it too creamy. However, if you want that creaminess, use all 6 cups.
- Because there are only a few ingredients in this pasta dish, it is more important than ever to use the best ingredients. That means you must use fresh ground black pepper and the best extra virgin olive oil.
Cacio e Pepe Pasta Risotto
- 2 tablespoons butter unsalted
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for serving
- 2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper divided
- ⅔ cup chopped white onion
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 pound ditalini pasta
- 6 cups chicken broth
- ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese plus more for serving
- salt to taste
- Add butter, olive oil, and one teaspoon of ground black pepper to a very large skillet or braising dish. You will be adding 1 pound of short pasta so make sure it all can fit. Place over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion and cook until the onions have softened and start to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
- Add wine to pan and bring to a boil. Cook until liquid has reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Add ditalini pasta and 2 cups of broth. Cook and stir occasionally until the liquid has been absorbed, about 6 minutes. Add another cup of broth and cook until broth is absorbed, another 6 minutes. Repeat until all the broth is absorbed by the pasta and the pasta is al dente. I used about 5 cups of broth because I didn't want a creamy consistency. If you do, use all 6 cups.
- Turn off heat. Add Pecorino cheese and stir until the cheese has melted. Add remaining teaspoon of ground black pepper and salt, if needed. Serve immediately with a little more ground black pepper and Pecorino cheese.