Recipe Review

The Pasta Queen’s Cacio e Pepe Is for Pasta Purists

published Mar 18, 2023
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Cacio e pepe recipe by The Pasta Queen in a bowl on a marble surface
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; headshot: Felipe Cortes

Nadia Caterina Munno, aka the Pasta Queen, shares the recipes she grew up with from her childhood in Rome on her very popular TikTok account. Cacio e pepe is a Roman dish, and I was curious about Munno’s take on it. She sticks with the namesake ingredients and just uses Pecorino Romano and pepper — no butter or olive oil here. Nadia’s version has you mix the cheese with the pasta water before adding it to the pasta, a technique I had yet to see.

How to Make The Pasta Queen’s Cacio e Pepe

Start by boiling a pot of water with half as much water as you’d typically use for pasta. While waiting for it to come to a boil, combine the grated cheese with 1 cup of water in a large bowl to make a cream. Toast a tablespoon of freshly ground pepper in a dry pan over low heat until fragrant. Add a splash of water to the pan and remove from the heat. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until tender. 

Transfer the pasta directly to the pan and pour in the cheese sauce. Toss, adding pasta water a spoonful at a time if the sauce clumps, until silky-smooth.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of The Pasta Queen’s Cacio e Pepe

This recipe had great flavor, but I struggled a bit with the technique. I opted to watch a thorough video on her YouTube channel. Unfortunately, I found this is a scenario where the video and the written recipe don’t align. To keep things fair, I opted to follow the recipe as written. 

The first trouble with this recipe is that it calls for 450 grams (1 pound) of either fresh or dried pasta. They really cannot be swapped 1:1. But based on the amounts of the other ingredients called for, I went ahead and used 1 pound of dried spaghetti. The recipe also says to boil the pasta for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes or until tender. I assumed the lower cooking time was for fresh pasta, and ended up boiling my spaghetti for 10 minutes until tender.

This recipe calls for the cheese to be measured by weight — 300 grams or about 10 1/2 ounces. When I added the 1/2 cup of pasta water for the sauce, however, I knew immediately something was off. The recipe indicates it should look like a “luscious cream,” which I think is very widely open to interpretation. In her videos, it’s clearly a thinner sauce; I had something much thicker and more paste-like. I wasn’t sure if I had too much cheese or not enough water, but I stuck to how the recipe was written rather than trying to guess at how to correct it. 

When I added the cheese sauce to the pasta I mixed it thoroughly and vigorously for quite some time to combine it as much as possible. It wasn’t clumping, but it definitely wasn’t a creamy sauce. As soon as I added a splash of the pasta water to loosen it, it seized up. The recipe says that if the sauce clumps, to add more water, but that just gave me a watery sauce and did nothing for the clumps. 

Despite a few snafus, I quite liked the ratio of ingredients here. I wasn’t sure if I had too much cheese or not enough water for the cheese sauce, but based on the flavor I would guess not enough water. I think a full tablespoon of pepper may be a bit much for some palates, but I liked how forward the flavor was. 

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If You Make The Pasta Queen’s Cacio e Pepe, a Few Tips

  1. Watch the full-length video for extra insight and tips.
  2. Consider adding more pasta water to the cheese mixture for a true sauce-like consistency before adding it to the pasta.
  3. For a less assertive pepper flavor, reduce to 2 teaspoons and add more to taste at the table.

Overall rating: 8/10