cacio e pepe

Cacio e Pepe with Lavender and Lemon Zest

I’ve heard it said that Cacio e Pepe is basically Italy’s answer to mac and cheese. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I think it’s more like a complex and satisfying version of pasta with butter and parmesan. Y’know, like what picky children eat for 70% of their meals (the other 30% being pizza). Ok I realize that I’m not really selling this dish, but it’s actually pretty great. In its purest form, it’s pasta (usually spaghetti or bucatini) with parmesan and black pepper.

I’ve taken it a step further by adding ground lavender and lemon zest. Subtlety is sort of the key to this dish, so these understated additions work really well here. They add complexity without changing the simple and comforting nature of the dish.

As is the case with any dish where the ingredient list is this short, it’s important to use high quality ones. Please don’t use pre-shredded/ground parmesan or pepper. I’m against both of those things in general, but especially for a dish where those are the two main ingredients. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it’s fine – the shredding and grinding will be like a mini workout. And honestly, there’s not a whole lot else that goes into making this so it’s gonna be ok.

cacio e pepe things

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Cacio e Peper with Lavender and Lemon Zest, serves 4:


  • 1 box spaghetti
  • 1 cup of pasta water
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese (+ more for garnishing)
  • 1 tbsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground lavender
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  1. Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil
  2. Add your spaghetti to the water, reduce temperature to a simmer and cook for about 7 minutes, then strain, making sure to save about 1 cup of pasta water
  3. While the spaghetti is cooking, melt 2 tbsp of butter in a large pan at medium heat. Once the butter is melted, incorporate the pepper and lavender and let it toast for about a minute, swirling it a bit as it cooks
  4. Add 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water to the sauce and bring it to a simmer. Then add your spaghetti and remaining 1 tbsp of butter to the pan. Reduce the heat to low and add the parmesan, tossing to melt the cheese and coat the noodles with the sauce
  5. If your noodles are too dry for your liking, add a little more of the pasta water. If you’re planning on saving any of your pasta for later, it’s a good idea to add more pasta water
  6. To plate, divide your pasta into 4 bowls and top with more parmesan. Zest the lemon directly onto each portion, and throw a few lavender buds on top (because aesthetic), and serve

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