Recipe Review

Smitten Kitchen’s Foolproof Cacio e Pepe Is a Cheese-Lover’s Dream

published Mar 19, 2023
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Cacio e pepe recipe by Smitten Kitchen in a bowl on a marble surface
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Deb Perelman’s recipes from her Smitten Kitchen blog make frequent appearances at our recipe showdowns. This recipe for cacio e pepe in particular is an editor favorite. It uses a “foolproof” technique of blending the grated cheese and cold water together with an immersion blender before adding it to the hot pasta. 

How to Make Smitten Kitchen’s Foolproof Cacio e Pepe

Start by boiling water and cooking the spaghetti. While the pasta cooks, add the grated Pecorino Romano and “a lot” of black pepper to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon cold water and blend with an immersion blender, adding a spoonful of water at a time to make a very smooth paste.

When the pasta is done, reserve some of the pasta water and quickly drain, adding it to a large bowl. Dollop 3/4 of the cheese mixture over and “toss, toss, toss.” Add a small ladleful of pasta water to loosen the paste slightly, adding more only if absolutely needed.

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

My Honest Review of Smitten Kitchen’s Foolproof Cacio e Pepe

This recipe is by far the most detailed. This was the only recipe that included weight, which is incredibly helpful when measuring cheese. Different sizes and coarseness of grinds and shreds all impact how much cheese you use if only measured by volume. The blog post contains a lot of information, more specifics in the headnotes, plus a link to a video, and lots of visual cues noted in the actual instructions. It’s a lot of information, but part of why the recipe claims to be foolproof. I went in confident in my success.

My first piece of trouble came with the blending. There wasn’t enough cheese in the bowl for my immersion blender to reach it. I transferred it to the tall, narrow jar that came with my immersion blender and proceeded. It worked, but was a little finicky. The recipe indicates to blend more than you think in order to get a smooth paste. In order to do this, I had to keep pausing to scrape the cheese out of the blender. I ended up using 2 tablespoons of water to make the paste (compared to Deb’s 4 to 5), but it looked just like the photos despite the trouble I had.

The recipe indicates that you don’t need to shake every drop of water off the pasta, so I drained the pasta very quickly and added it to a large bowl. I dolloped over most of the cheese and started mixing. At this point I realized I didn’t drain the pasta nearly enough — there was quite a bit of water at the bottom of the bowl. Because it had already combined with the cheese, I couldn’t just dump it out. So I continued tossing for a couple of minutes, adding the rest of the cheese mixture, hoping it would absorb the excess moisture.

I ended up with a fairly watery sauce, but it was very smooth and still quite cheesy. (This recipe uses the highest ratio of cheese to pasta.) 

Because I felt like this was user error and not the recipe, I actually repeated this recipe, not something I normally do for these showdowns. I did everything exactly the same, but took my time draining the pasta. I did not shake it dry, but I did count to 10 after dumping the pasta in the colander. Things were going fine as I proceeded, but as soon as I added a splash of cooking water everything immediately seized up. The cheese glued itself to the sides of the bowl and became a clumpy, stringy mess. I think it’s important to have some water clinging to the pasta after draining, but not enough to leave a puddle at the bottom of your bowl.

The texture of this sauce was off, but the flavor was quite cheesy. The recipe indicates to taste before adding all of the cheese sauce, and I definitely recommend doing that. This is a classic-style recipe that sticks to just Pecorino Romano and pepper for the flavor. It can be a strong cheese on its own, and there is a lot of it present here.

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

If You Make Smitten Kitchen’s Foolproof Cacio e Pepe, A Few Tips

  1. Read all of the information and watch the video. There is a lot of detail, but it helps.
  2. There’s no measurement given for the pepper, but I found 1 teaspoon to be perfect for my taste.
  3. You don’t need to shake the pasta dry, but give the pasta a few seconds to drain most of it away. 
  4. A large roasting or carving fork is an excellent tool for tossing the pasta. I spied it in the video that inspired the recipe, and it worked much better than the tongs most other recipes called for.
  5. Toss for quite some time before adding any pasta water, adding a splash at a time and overall as little as possible. 

Overall rating: 8/10