Pici are a thick pasta traditional from Tuscany and with their rustic thickness, they go particularly well with creamy Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper sauce, Cacio e Pepe. A perfect Italian recipe that can be made from scratch in about 30 minutes.
Cacio e Pepe is one of the most representative dishes of Italian food, along with Carbonara and Lasagne. What they all have in common is that they only need 3 ingredients. Yes, only 3. But the most important thing that they have in common is that you need to do them just right. Follow the instructions and use the right ingredients, otherwise, you end up with a completely different dish or a hot mess.
- All-Purpose Flour. Standard all-purpose flour will work fine to make fresh pasta. In this case, it's paired with Semolina to make the dough more flexible and easier to roll into Pici shape.
- Semolina Flour. Semolina flour is ground durum wheat. It has a coarser texture than regular processed flour and it's often used to make eggless fresh pasta. If you can find multiple choices of Semolina, buy the finer one (called Semola Rimacinata in Italian), which is more suitable for pasta making.
- Black Pepper. Black pepper gives all the flavor to this cheese sauce. The best result is given by whole peppercorns, quickly toasted in a pan, and then hand crushed. You can also use freshly ground black pepper.
- Pink Peppercorns. This is an unusual addition that is not part of the authentic Roman recipe, but it's what I had in a restaurant once and I absolutely loved the fragrance of pink peppercorns to this dish. Pink peppercorns are milder than black peppercorns and that's why you can eat them whole without the need to crush them. If they're too much for you, feel free to skip them.
- Pecorino Romano Cheese. Pecorino Romano or simply called Romano, is an aged sheep milk cheese that is particularly suited for this recipe as it melts perfectly and doesn't split or clog as easily as other cheese types.
What is Pecorino cheese
The name literally means cheese and pepper, which already indicates that there's nothing more you need. Cacio e Pepe is a traditional dish from Lazio region, specifically the beautiful ancient city of Rome. For this reason, the main ingredient is Pecorino Romano. A sheep milk cheese made in this same region for centuries (but thankfully available worldwide nowadays). Pecorino is a salty cheese and it's very hard and crumbly so it's perfect to grate on top of pasta dishes.
I like to use only Pecorino cheese but if you prefer you can use ⅔ Pecorino cheese and ⅓ Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
What is Pici Pasta
Pici are a traditional pasta from Tuscany, where I was born and raised. They are thick like Udon noodles but made with semolina, flour, and water just like other pasta shapes. If you double the recipe, making it for 4 people, I suggest adding 1 egg yolk to the pasta dough, to make it stretchier.
Pici Cacio e Pepe is very common in Tuscany and it's one of my favorite dishes. Pici pasta is so thick and rustic and coated with the delicious creamy cheese is just heavenly. Another great traditional Tuscan recipe with Pici pasta is Pici all'Aglione, a spicy garlic tomato sauce.
The traditional Roman recipe, however, is with Tonnarelli pasta. Tonnarelli has a thickness halfway between Pici and Spaghetti. Although, the most common practice around Italy is to make Cacio e Pepe simply with Spaghetti pasta, the thicker the better!
Check out also this extensive guide with step-by-step videos on how to make 10 different shapes of fresh pasta without a pasta machine.
How to make authentic Cacio e Pepe
This dish is apparently very easy to make. The only ingredients are cheese, black pepper, and pasta, what can go wrong? Actually many things can go wrong.
One of the biggest mistakes people do (and with people I include myself as well) is to keep the pan on the heat after you added the cheese to the pasta. If you cook the cheese, it will separate so you'll end up with watery pasta and a thick cheese paste glued to the pan.
Another consideration to make is about salt. Pecorino cheese is quite salty so make sure you taste it and regulate the saltness of the pasta water accordingly. Or regulate the cheese intensity by mixing in Parmigiano cheese which is less salty.
To make the perfect Cacio e Pepe you simply have to mix the cheese and pepper in a bowl, and slowly add the pasta water while mixing energetically until you get a cream. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it directly to the bowl with the cheese, away from the heat. Mix well and serve.
In a large bowl, add the all-purpose flour, semolina flour, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Mix the flours and add the water a little bit at a time, until the dough comes together, then knead it with your hands into a ball.
Roll the pasta on a cutting board, then cut it into strips.
Roll each strip with the palms of your hands to make the pici pasta shape. Boil the pasta 2-3 minutes in salted water.
In another bowl, mix the Romano cheese with the ground black pepper. Set a few ladles of pasta water aside to cool down slightly.
Add the warm water to the cheese and pepper mix and whisk until you get a cream. Add the pasta to the sauce and mix well, serve immediately.
Fresh uncooked Pici Pasta can be frozen in portions for up to 6 months. You do not need to thaw frozen pasta, simply add it to the pot with boiling salted water and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
You can also air-dry Pici Pasta on a clean towel and use it within 1-2 days. Dried pasta should also cook a couple of minutes longer as it takes more time to rehydrate.
Do not store fresh pasta in the fridge as the humidity will make it too soft and sticky.
Leftovers Pici Cacio e Pepe will unfortunately not survive reheating. The cheese sauce will clog if overheated and it will also become a sticky mass in the fridge.
FAQ & Tips
You can make the Pici Pasta in advance and either air-dry them or freeze them in portions. In both cases, cook the pasta a couple of minutes longer. The cheese sauce and final assembly of the dish, though, can only be done when ready to serve and cannot be done in advance.
The only cheese that can be used for this recipe is Pecorino Romano. Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano can be added together with Pecorino Romano in a ⅓ ratio. The reason for this is that only Pecorino Romano has the right consistency, aging, and fat amount to make the perfect creamy sauce. Any other cheese would most likely separate or not melt perfectly.
Of course, you can use spaghetti, or any other pasta shape you prefer to eat with Cacio e Pepe sauce.
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Pici Cacio e Pepe
- 3 oz All Purpose Flour
- 3 oz Semolina Flour
- ⅓ cup Pecorino Romano Cheese, grated
- Black Pepper, ground
- Pink Peppercorns, optional
- Olive Oil
- Mix the two flours in a large bowl and drizzle a little bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Slowly add some water and start mixing with your hands, adding more water a little bit at a time until the dough starts coming together. After a few minutes of kneading, you should have a round soft ball, which is not crumbly nor sticky.
- Cover the dough ball in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 15 minutes.
- To make the Pici, roll the pasta dough and cut it into strips, then roll them with both your hands on the cutting board to get the thick pasta strings. Try to keep the same thickness on the whole lenght, to cook it uniformly.
- In a large bowl, grate the Pecorino cheese and add the ground black pepper to taste (it should be quite a lot but not too much) and set aside.
- Toss the Pici in a large pot of boiling salted water.
- Slowly add half ladle of pasta water to the cheese while whisking energetically and add more water gradually if necessary until you get a smooth cream.
- After 3-4 minutes, drain the pasta and add it to the bowl of cheese sauce. Mix well and serve immediately with freshly grated cheese and crushed pink peppercorns if you like.
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.