This quick and simple Lemon Cacio E Pepe recipe is loaded with flavor and perfect for easy weeknight dinners. A pop of bright and zippy lemon flavor adds a truly delightful, citrusy kick to this signature Roman “cheese and pepper” pasta dish!

lemon cacio e pepe in white pasta bowl

Hey peeps, hey! Is it me or is February just whizzing by like a thief in the night, ha. Listen, I blinked and we’re already nearing the end of the month. Anyways, this week yours truly is back with another one, *DJ Khaled voice* and it’s fireeeee. I haven’t developed a pasta recipe in what seems, to me, like a hot minute. When I tell you this lemon cacio e pepe recipe has me completely…

Lemon Cacio E Pepe! 👅

Honestly, pasta is almost always a good time, it’s hard to go wrong with pasta. But what I love here is how wildly easy yet incredibly bomb this pasta dish is. And y’all, when I say easy, I’m talking only 5-ingredients standing between you and an epic pasta slurp-fest. This recipe is a slight twist on traditional cacio e pepe with a buttery vibe and a pop of bright lemon flavor that you’ll love!

More BBR goodness: miso ginger salmon rice bowls, dreamy stovetop mac and cheese, my pomegranate braised lamb shanks, the coziest gnocchi bolognese, and weeknight staples like pesto pasta w/ turkey meatballs– yaaa.

lemon cacio e pepe in white pasta bowl with gold fork

Back to Basics: what is cacio e pepe?

Cacio e pepe is a classic, Roman pasta dish. The word “cacio” refers to cheese, while the word “pepe” refers to pepper. At its core, a traditional, authentic cacio e pepe has 3 basic elements: cheese, pepper, and pasta. While I’ve yet to visit Rome, I first learned of this signature dish from American celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain. In an episode of his show, No Reservations, Bourdain visits his favorite restaurant in Rome for a memorable plate of cacio e pepe.

It’s well-known for being an incredibly simple pasta recipe, needing just a little bit of tlc (on the technique) to achieve a glossy, creamy sauce. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a fully “authentic” cacio e pepe recipe with my addition of butter and lemon here. However, the richness from butter, and the brightness/acidity that lemon provides, add a luscious flavor to the final result, swoon 🤌🏾

DISCLOSURE: So excited to work with my friends again from Sur La Table as well as the Le Creuset team. I’ve partnered with them to develop this lemon cacio e pepe using this cutie, 2.75-quart dutch oven, I adore the petite size. These types of enameled cast iron dutch ovens are my holy grail pieces of cookware, forever and always. Simple put, their durability is unmatched.

And btw- Sur La Table is the absolute g.o.a.t for kitchen items; I mean, look at these gorgeous pearl pasta bowls, too. A good amount of my kitchenware and food props come from SLT. >> Full transparency, I just love them! ♡

Lemon Cacio E Pepe Recipe Highlights

First, let’s tap into the main highlights that you’ll appreciate here:

  • EASY & SIMPLE: I know you love a recipe that comes together with a quickness, blog insights tell me this lol. There is very little hands-on work you’ll have to do here, it’s what I call a low-effort, high-reward staple! It’s super straightforward but doesn’t compromise on flavor in the slightest…
  • ABUNDANT FLAVOR: From the butter to the cheese to the black pepper to the lemony flavor, everything blends together in harmony. There’s a delightful, slightly spicy kick from the fresh pepper and the rich and flavorful components of butter and cheese. And lemon adds a touch of acidity that cuts through the richness and gives some vibrancy on the palate.
  • VERSATILITY: This lemon cacio e pepe recipe can be whipped up for a quick, satisfying weeknight meal or saved for special occasions like date night in or other special events in your life. It’s simple yet has decadent flair.
cacio e pepe in gray dutch oven on marbled surface

What You’ll Need For This Recipe

(Note: the full ingredients list, including measurements, is provided in the recipe card directly below.)

  • Pasta: We can’t make this dish without pasta. Listen, my long cut pasta of choice will always be bucatini. I am a complete stan for it, amen. Bucatini is slightly thicker and more chewier than traditional spaghetti with its tubular-shaped self. I recommend either bucatini or spaghetti for this recipe. Additionally, a bronze-cut pasta is clutch because of its porous, rough texture (from the bronze-die process) that better absorbs the cacio e pepe sauce.
  • Butter: Yup, butter is slightly controversial and not considered traditional in cacio e pepe. Calm ya bridges, I know. However, butter is called for in *this* recipe. I find that butter contributes to the overall flavor and adds a slick richness that yields greater depth. Butter 🤝 pasta, nuff said.
  • Black pepper: Freshly cracked black pepper is the very heart of this recipe, peeps. So, please take that pre-ground can or jar of powdery black pepper elsewhere, I beg. Real talk, fresh cracked black pepper delivers an optimum punch of black peppery goodness that sings throughout this dish.
  • Pecorino romano cheese: As written, the cheese of choice here is *pecorino romano* friends. It’s a salty, hard Italian sheep’s milk cheese that is traditional in cacio e pepe recipes. A second best alternative would be parmesan cheese. In addition to that, you need a fresh block of said cheese that you’ll grate using a microplane or on the smallest holes of a box grater.
  • Lemon zest + lemon juice: Adds some acidity and bright, zippy zing! 🍋
black hands with gold fork taking forkful of cacio e pepe pasta in white bowl

How To Make Lemon Cacio E Pepe:

(Note: please see the recipe card directly below for the complete written instructions.)

Let’s see how easy and simple this cacio e pepe recipe comes together:

  1. Cook the pasta: Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Then *generously* season the water with salt. Add the pasta into the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente- about 7-9 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water and then drain pasta. Reduce the stovetop heat to the lowest setting.
  2. Build the pasta & toss: Add the butter into the pot, first, and top with cooked pasta. Then add the ground black pepper, half of the pecorino romano cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water. Toss together until the butter just melts and the mixture is briefly combined. Then add in the remaining cheese and a bit more of the starchy pasta water, only as needed, while continuing to toss/stir until the cheese melts and a glossy, creamy sauce coats the pasta.
  3. Serve: Remove pasta from heat. Serve lemon cacio e pepe pasta immediately (it’s when this recipe is best!) garnish with an extra topping of more grated pecorino romano cheese, if desired. Enjoy!
closeup overhead shot of cacio e pepe in white pasta bowl

Recipe Tips + Tricks & More For Success

Now let’s dive into some tips + tricks and much more for this pasta recipe:

  • Don’t overcook the pasta– Cook the pasta until it achieves an “al dente” state which basically means cooked, but firm. This way the pasta still has some nice bite to it (no mushy pasta!). Plus, keep in mind that the pasta will continue cooking slightly in the pan when emulsifying the sauce.
  • Pecorino Romano cheese sub– Next best alternatives to pecorino romano cheese include parmigiano-reggiano or parmesan cheese.
  • A note on cheese– You need to grate the cheese using a microplane or on the smallest holes of a box grater. Freshly grated cheese creates razor thin, wispy shreds of cheese that should melt beautifully in this pasta. Pssst, using pre-shredded cheese (contains anti-caking agents that prevent the cheese from melting smoothly) may result in your pasta clumping, oof.
  • Tossing & stirring well– After you’ve added the ingredients to the cooked pasta, from here it’s all about tossing constantly to emulsify the sauce. The hot starchy pasta water tossed with the pasta creates a glossy, creamy sauce that perfectly coats the pasta. The pasta clumping is prevented by the addition of the starchy water.
  • Serve, stat!– This lemon cacio e pepe recipe is best served expeditiously after the sauce comes together. If you don’t devour it straight outta the pot haha, immediately serve in pasta bowls and go to town while it’s hot.
  • Cacio e pepe variations– Feel free to toast up some peppercorns prior to grounding them for an extra fragrant flavor profile, yum. Add some protein like sautéed shrimp or chicken bites. For a bit of healthy vibes, add some steamed veggies like peas or chopped broccoli.
  • Scale the recipe– This pasta recipe serves 2, but can easily be doubled to serve more if you’d like.
closeup of lemon pepper pasta in white bowl with gold fork

Whew, pasta night elevation with this Lemon Cacio E Pepe recipe, y’all. It’s so wildly simple yet unbelievably good! Be sure to tag @butterbeready in your BBR recipe creations, I sure love to see it when you do. Until next time! 🤟🏾

More simply scrumptious eats you’ll love:

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closeup of lemon pepper pasta in white bowl with gold fork

Lemon Cacio E Pepe

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 1 review
  • Author: Quin Liburd
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 2 1x
  • Category: Main Dishes
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian-Inspired
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Description

This quick and simple Lemon Cacio E Pepe recipe is loaded with flavor and perfect for easy weeknight dinners. A pop of bright and zippy lemon flavor adds a truly delightful, citrusy kick to this signature Roman “cheese and pepper” pasta dish!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 8 ounces dried bucatini (or spaghetti)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, grated on a microplane or the smallest holes on a box grater, plus more for garnish
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 12 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta: Fill a large pot about halfway full of water and bring it to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Then *generously* season the water with salt. Add the pasta into the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente- about 7-9 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water and then drain pasta into a colander. Reduce the stovetop heat to the lowest setting.
  2. Build the pasta & toss: Return the empty pot back to the stove. Add the butter into the pot, first, and top with cooked pasta. Then add the black pepper, half of the pecorino romano cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water. Toss together until the butter just melts and the mixture is briefly combined. Then add in the remaining cheese and a bit more of the starchy pasta water, only as needed, while continuing to toss/stir until the cheese melts and a smooth, glossy, and creamy sauce is left behind that coats the pasta nicely.
  3. Serve: Remove pasta from heat. Serve lemon cacio e pepe pasta immediately in shallow pasta bowls and garnish with an extra topping of more grated pecorino romano cheese, if desired. Enjoy!

Notes

  1. A note on cheese: As written, the cheese of choice here is *pecorino romano* friends. A second best alternative would be parmesan cheese. In addition to that, you need a fresh block of said cheese that you’ll grate using a microplane or on the smallest holes of a box grater. Freshly grated cheese creates razor thin, wispy shreds of cheese that should melt beautifully in this pasta. Using pre-shredded cheese may result in your pasta clumping, and I don’t want that for you.
  2. For best recipe success, please read the blog post & notes in its entirety with video tutorial before beginning.