Creamy Lemon Cacio e Pepe

Let me introduce you to your new best friend Creamy Lemon Cacio e Pepe. It's Pasta a Limone meets Cacio e Pepe and OMG IT IS TRULY EVERYTHING.

Two plates of creamy lemon cacio e pepe  sitting next to a glass of white wine.

Why I Love This Recipe

I don't know the next time we'll be in Italy so obviously I'm just re-imagining all my favorite dishes so I can eat them at home! We all know I'm obsessed with Cacio e Pepe - but this creamy lemon version is truly next level. Imagine the creamy Pasta a Limone that you've maybe had at an Italian restaurant before... but with ALL THE PEPPER AND CHEESE. Omg it's truly a marriage of recipes that I can get behind. This recipe needs to happen in your kitchen STAT. Once you've made this recipe, try out my Perfect Spaghetti Carbonara recipe. Chef's kiss!

Ingredients & Substitutions

An overhead shot of all the ingredients in individual bowls.  Ingredients consist of 2 lemons, heavy cream, spaghetti, parmesan, salt, pecorino, black pepper, and unsalted butter.
  • Lemons
  • Spaghetti
  • Heavy Cream
  • Parmesan
  • Pecorino
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Unsalted Butter

*For the full list of ingredients and instructions please see the recipe card below

How to Make Lemon Cacio e Pepe

A bowl of lemon zest, a bowl of lemon peel strands, and a bowl of lemon juice.

Step 1: Using a vegetable peeler, remove two 2"-long strips of lemon zest. Thinly slice each strip lengthwise into thin strands; set aside for serving. Finely grate remaining zest into a large pot (like a Dutch oven). Cut the lemons in half and juice (you need about 2-3 tablespoons) into a small bowl and set aside.

A large blue skillet with lemon zest and cream.

Step 2: While the pasta cooks, add cream to large skillet with lemon zest and cook over medium heat until simmering, about 2 minutes.

A large blue skillet with lemon zest and cream and butter.

Step 3: Reduce heat to medium-low and add in butter while stirring until the sauce is creamy and emulsified. Turn off heat if you're not ready for the next step.

A bowl of al dente spaghetti noodles next to a measuring cup filled with lemon juice.

Step 4: Just before pasta is al dente, scoop out ¾ cup pasta cooking liquid and add the pasta cooking liquid to cream sauce and return to medium heat. Drain the pasta and transfer to the skillet with the sauce sauce.

The al dente spaghetti has been added to the skillet of butter, lemon zest,and cream.

Step 5: Cook, tossing often and adding grated cheese little by little, until cheese is melted and sauce is creamy.

Freshly cracked black pepper has been added to the skillet of cooked pasta.  A bowl of lemon peel strips sits next to the skillet.

Step 6: Stir in the reserved lemon juice and season with salt as needed and the freshly cracked black pepper. Divide pasta among bowls and top with reserved lemon zest strips and extra pepper and grated parmesan if desired

Tips & Tricks

If you're making this with store-bought pre-shredded cheese, there's a chance it wont incorporate as nicely than if you shred/grate it yourself. So go ahead and take the extra 2 minutes to grate yourself. I promise it's worth it!

And if you're on the hunt for some more Italian inspired recipes to recreate at home... we've got you covered!

FAQs

What does cacio e pepe mean?

"Cacio e Pepe" is Italian for "cheese and pepper."

Why is cacio e pepe so hard to perfectly execute?

Cacio e Pepe may seem like a simple dish with its minimal ingredients, but achieving the perfect balance and texture can be quite challenging. Here are some reasons why it can be hard to execute perfectly:

Cheese Clumping: The most common problem with Cacio e Pepe is the cheese clumping together instead of melting into a smooth sauce. This can happen if the cheese is not finely grated, if it's added to the pasta when it's too hot, or if the pasta is too dry.

Sauce Consistency: Achieving the right sauce consistency requires the perfect balance between the starchy pasta water, cheese, and pepper. Too much water can make the sauce runny, while too little can make it clumpy.

Pasta Cooking: The pasta needs to be cooked to the perfect al dente texture. Overcooked pasta will not hold the sauce well, while undercooked pasta can ruin the dish's texture.

Timing: The ingredients need to be added at the right time and in the right order. If things are done out of sequence or if there's a delay in combining the ingredients, the sauce may not emulsify properly.

Temperature: The temperature of the pasta and the pan can affect how the cheese melts. If it's too hot, the cheese may seize and clump. If it's too cool, the cheese may not melt properly, leading to a grainy texture.

Quality of Ingredients: With so few ingredients, the quality of each becomes paramount. Using the right type of cheese (Pecorino Romano) and freshly ground pepper makes a significant difference in flavor and texture.

Technique: Properly emulsifying the cheese with the pasta water requires a gentle but confident hand, constant stirring, and sometimes even a bit of whisking.

A speckled plate with a gold fork holds the final dish of Creamy Lemon Cacio e Pepe.

Similar Recipes

If you tried this recipe, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it goes in the 📝 comments below. Thanks for visiting today!

Creamy Lemon Cacio e Pepe

Author: Gaby Dalkin
5 from 10 votes
Pasta a Limone meets Cacio e Pepe - get into it!
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • 2 lemons
  • 1 pound spaghetti  
  • Kosher salt
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • cup finely grated Parmesan
  • cup finely grated Pecorino
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated black pepper

Instructions
 

  • Using a vegetable peeler, remove two 2"-long strips of lemon zest. Thinly slice each strip lengthwise into thin strands; set aside for serving. Finely grate remaining zest into a large pot (like a Dutch oven). Cut the lemons in half and juice (you need about 2-3 tablespoons) into a small bowl and set aside.
  • Cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until very al dente (pasta will finish cooking in the sauce).
  • Meanwhile, add cream to large skillet with lemon zest and cook over medium heat until simmering, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add in butter while stirring until the sauce is creamy and emulsified. Turn off heat if you're not ready for the next step.
  • Just before pasta is al dente, scoop out ¾ cup pasta cooking liquid and add the pasta cooking liquid to cream sauce and return to medium heat. Drain the pasta and transfer to the skillet with the sauce sauce. Cook, tossing often and adding grated cheese little by little, until cheese is melted and sauce is creamy. Stir in the reserved lemon juice and season with salt as needed and the freshly cracked black pepper.
  • Divide pasta among bowls and top with reserved lemon zest strips and extra pepper and grated parmesan if desired.

Notes

One thing to note: if you’re making this with store-bought pre-shredded cheese, there’s a chance it wont incorporate as nicely than if you shred/grate it yourself. So go ahead and take the extra 2 minutes to grate yourself. I promise it’s worth it!

Nutrition Information

Calories: 844kcal | Carbohydrates: 94g | Protein: 25g | Fat: 42g | Saturated Fat: 25g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 119mg | Sodium: 414mg | Potassium: 426mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1377IU | Vitamin C: 29mg | Calcium: 313mg | Iron: 2mg
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15 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This is soooo delicious! Made it yesterday for a dinner party. This may just be my new go to pasta dish!!

  2. 5 stars
    This is SO good, such great flavors for a summer pasta. I added some crispy prosciutto, and some more reserve pasta water right before dishing up and it was perfect. Toddler approved as well!

  3. 5 stars
    I made this recipe for dinner tonight. My husband is Italian and he doesn't usually deviate from traditional tomato sauce for his pasta so I wasn't sure how it would go over. He took one bite and said, "wow. this is really delicious". We both loved it. It's a perfect recipe for a summer pasta dish when you don't want something as heavy as tomato sauce.

  4. 5 stars
    Wow, incredible. Such a simple dish that feels so fancy! The addition of lemon really enhanced everything.

  5. Made this....had all the ingredients in the house...sooo good! the lemon gave it a freshness! Loved it!

  6. I am obsessed with lemon and pepper pasta but and dairy free. Is there a substitute for the heavy cream?

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