Cacio e pepe (Happy Birthday, Roma!)

April 21st was the 2,765th birthday of Rome!  According to legend, Romolo founded the city on April 21st of 753 B.C.  But to understand that story, we should really back up a few more years yet, to the almost tragic birth of Romolo e Remo, or Romulus and Remus.

The Tiber River and St. Peter's Basilica, image from

Conceived by their mother Rhea, a Vestal Virgin,  and the God Mars, the twins were abandoned at birth, placed in a basket and floated down the Tiber river.  The river was in flood stage though, and their basket eventually washed to shore where a  she-wolf, (lupa) found them and nursed them to health.   Eventually the boys were adopted and raised by a shepherd and his wife.  Upon reaching adulthood, the boys decided to found a town at the same location where the lupa found and nursed them.  They argued, however, over which hill the new city should be build upon.  Romolo wanted the town built on the Palatine Hill, and Remo on the Aventine Hill.  In the quarrel that ensued, Romolo killed Remo, becoming the sole namesake of the city of Roma.

The Capitoline Wolf, a bronze statue of the she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus located in Rome's Capitoline Museums. Image from

To commemorate Rome’s compleanno (birthday), we compiled some of the web’s best photos of the Eternal City, and prepared one of the most classic Roman pastas, Cacio e pepe.

Cacio e pepe is a classic of the cucina povera Romana.  The shepherds who herded sheep in the hills outside of Rome who would carry aged cheese made from sheep’s milk with them, because it was easy to transport and preserve, and sheep’s cheese is a staple of Roman cuisine.  Cacio e pepe is made from just three ingredients: the hard, sharp and salty sheep’s cheese Pecorino Romano, cracked black pepper, and spaghetti. Disregard recipes that call for blends of cheeses, olive oil, or other ingredients – that’s not the real thing.

Cacio e pepe is a fixture on the menu of Rome’s traditional osterie and trattorie, and a fantastic pasta to make on a whim.  Despite its simplicity, it requires the right technique to prepare it well.  In a well-executed cacio e pepe, the Pecorino will turn creamy and smooth, coating the spaghetti perfectly.

This post is also our entry to the 261st edition of Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by Simona of the delightful English/Italian food blog Briciole.  Be sure to stop by and take a look at the pasta entries from around the world!

Ingredients, for 4-6 people
1 package (450 or 500 grams) spaghetti
250 grams (approx 8 ounces or just over 2 cups) grated Pecorino Romano
Cracked black pepper
Sea salt, preferably coarse

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and toss an abundant handful of salt into it. Add the pasta, and cook until al dente according to the time specified on the package.  While the pasta is boiling, prepare your cheese and have your black pepper ready to grind.

Just before draining the pasta, remove several cups of the pasta water and set aside.  When the pasta is al dente, drain it and return it immediately to the hot pot it cooked it.  Add one ladle of the preserved cooking water and about 3/4 of the grated cheese, and toss together vigorously with two forks so that the cheese melts into a smooth sauce.  If it seems too dry, add a little more of the cooking water.  If it is too runny, add more cheese.   Grind black pepper abundantly over the pasta, toss again, and serve immediately with one more dusting of ground black pepper and a sprinkle of grated Pecorino.

Wine Pairing
A dish this Roman needs a wine from Castelli Romani, the hills just outside of Rome where shepherds still tend sheep and produce great sheep’s milk cheese.  One option is Fontana Candida Frascati, which we featured in another Roman pasta dish, la carbonara.  Or, if you prefer a red, we recommend Velletri Rosso Riserva Terre dei Volsci.  This wine reflects the simplicity and earthiness of the Castelli Romani, and it’s freshness and acidity stand up well to the strong flavor of Pecorino Romano in cacio e pepe.

Le foto di Roma

The Colosseum. Image from

Castel Sant'Angelo and the Tiber River. Image from

Piazza Campo de' Fiori. Image from

St. Peter's Basilica rises above the rooftops of Rome. Image from

Piazza Campidoglio, where we were married. Image from

A Fiat 500 parked in Trastevere, one of the oldest parts of Rome. Image from

Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter's Square). Image from

The splendid Pantheon. Image from

This entry was posted in Pasta, Rice and Grains, Recipes and Wine Pairings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Cacio e pepe (Happy Birthday, Roma!)

  1. Frank says:

    A beautiful dish in its utter simplicity, and yet it’s not easy to make well. I make it whenever I’m feeling nostalgic for my Roman days…

  2. PolaM says:

    You make it sound so easy! I never manage to get it quite to the right consistency 😦 I think there must be a secret!

  3. Carrie says:

    I love the simplicity of this and need to give it a try. Oh how I miss, Rome. I don’t think my coin in the fountain ensured my quick return to Rome. (It was 2000 when I was there last!) Tomorrow is our anniversary and we’ll be celebrating Italy since that is where my husband proposed and where we took our Honeymoon. 😉

  4. madlisa says:

    Che bel piatto! A wonderful way to celebrate Roma’s birthday. Perhaps I will make it tonight. My pecorino mostly gets used for bucatini all’amatriciana. Beautiful photos too. I love that you married in Piazza Campidoglio! Perfect.

  5. Simona says:

    A perfect birthday dish! (You’ll see that we were on the same wavelength in terms of cheese this week.) thank you so much for contributing to Presto Pasta Nights.

    • duespaghetti says:

      We were in fact thinking along the same lines! I think when spring comes each year we begin craving fava beans and pecorino. Thank you for hosting Presto Pasta Nights – it’s a fun event.

  6. Jennifer Passudetti-Jacobs says:

    Beautiful photos! Reminds me of my summer in Rome when I studied aboard. I linked over from bricoile and I look forward to reading more recipes.

  7. duespaghetti says:

    Thanks so much for stopping by Due Spaghetti, Jennifer! Briciole is one of our favorite blogs – we love to check in often to see what Simona is up to. Summers in Rome leave such memories – we think of strolling the piazzas and eating a pizza outdoors at night, when the city finally cools down a little!

  8. Pingback: Fave e Pecorino | Due Spaghetti

  9. Ruth says:

    such a simple dish, but always one of my favorites. Your virtual trip to Rome was equally wonderful. Thanks for sharing the dish with Presto pasta Nights.

  10. Pingback: Linguine al sugo di tonno | Due Spaghetti

  11. Pingback: Bucatini all’amatriciana | Due Spaghetti

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