This 5-ingredient Risotto al Cacio e Pepe is a pepper-forward cheesy risotto recipe that you'll find is incredibly simple and easy to make. Like many Italian dishes, it relies on a few simple but high quality ingredients that lead to amazing results. Good quality parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black pepper have the ability to make just about anything taste amazing.
I strongly recommend buying whole tellicherry or black peppercorns like these from Spice House, along with a good spice grinder to make this recipe. You simply cannot achieve the same delicious results using pre-ground black pepper. You'll never go back.
What is Risotto al Cacio e Pepe?
Pronounced "cacho eh peppeh," the direct translation from Italian to English is Risotto with Cheese and Pepper.
The risotto version of cacio e pepe is actually easier to make than traditional spaghetti al cacio e pepe.
That's because risotto contains a lot of starch. This starch acts as a binding agent that essentially creates a parmesan cream sauce... One that doesn't clump. (Clumping happens really easily when making cacio e pepe pasta if it's too hot or not starchy enough)
How to Make Risotto al Cacio e Pepe
As with many risotto recipes, like my Tomato and Mascarpone Risotto, this one is a labor of love. It is made using the classic Italian method of adding hot liquid to rice and evaporating it over and over again until the arborio rice is cooked through.
I should note that there is a way to get the same creamy texture without stirring. J.Kenji developed this method and it involves rinsing the rice in the cooking liquid first. Then toasting the drained rice. Then adding the liquid. Frankly, it's still a bit of a process, but you can read more about it here.
For the purposes of tradition, I'll explain the stir method in this recipe. That creamy texture sets it apart from regular white rice.
As I mentioned earlier, this Risotto Cacio e Pepe recipe only calls for 5 ingredients plus salt and hot water.
- Arborio Rice
- Black pepper
- Grated Parmesan Cheese or Pecorino Romano (you'll notice that a lot of the other Cacio e Pepe Risotto recipes call for cream cheese. I feel strongly that this recipe should rely strictly on parmesan cheese for its cheese flavor. Cream cheese is simply unnecessary and overpowers the parmesan. Plus Parmesan tastes much better with black pepper, and is more in line with classic cacio e pepe)
- Butter (salted is my go-to despite droves of professional chefs trying to sway me)
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Lightly simmering water (Notice: This recipe does NOT call for chicken broth OR wine like most risotto recipes do. Using chicken or vegetable broth or even wine tends to distract from the taste of the cheese and pepper. We want those flavors to shine!)
The basic process of making Risotto al Cacio e Pepe is simple. Bloom the pepper and lightly toast the rice, then add hot, lightly-salted water in batches until the rice is soft enough to eat.
Step 1: In a medium pot, bring 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil, then reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Cover the pot until ready to use. Boil a parmesan rind in the water if you have one! If not, that's OK. It's not necessary for the recipe.
Step 2: In a larger pot such as a 6 quart dutch oven or sauce pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the pepper and stir for 30 seconds, making sure you don't allow it to burn. Then add the risotto to the pepper and butter mixture and for 2 minutes more.
Just toast the rice until it becomes lightly toasted around the edges. Over-toasting can keep the end result from being creamy enough.
Step 4: Now for the fun part. Working in batches, add 1 cup of the hot water to the risotto at a time, stirring frequently throughout. You DO NOT need to stir constantly. Just keep it from sticking. Each time the liquid fully evaporates, add more. You do not have to use all 6 cups of hot water. In fact, I usually end up using about 5 cups. (it's good to have extra because some evaporates as it simmers)
Step 5: Once cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the grated parmigiano.
Step 6: Spoon risotto into serving bowls, top with more black pepper, and enjoy your cheesy, peppery, creamy risotto!
- Make sure the water stays at a very low simmer so it doesn't evaporate too much.
- Don't over salt the water! It's not like making pasta where you end up draining most of the salt and water. Almost the whole pot of water (and its salt content) ends up in the risotto.
- Use Arborio rice, Carnaroli rice or Bomba Rice
- A little stickage is fine, but if the rice starts to stick to the bottom of the pan and you can't get it off, lower the heat to medium-low heat.
- I prefer my risotto slightly softer than al dente. It takes about 25-30 minutes and about 5 cups of water to achieve the perfect doneness and creamy consistency.
I don't recommend making many substitutions in this recipe. It has so few ingredients that there's not a lot of room for swapping without changing the taste of the dish. Some possible substitutions include:
- Using Pecorino Romano Cheese... Pecirono is technically traditional for cacio e pepe! But I simply like parmesan better for this risotto. I think it meshes better with the taste of black pepper. And since it's such an umami-forward cheese, it can stand alone really well in this very simple recipe. Having said that, you can absolutely use Pecorino Cheese or even Grana Padano instead of parmesan.
- Type of peppercorns: feel free to substitute with rainbow, pink, green, or even white peppercorns. The flavors vary slightly but all are delicious in their own way. You can also use a combination. Whatever you decide, make sure it's freshly- cracked.
- Unsalted butter: If you only have unsalted butter, that's completely fine. In fact, most other recipe developers would recommend it. However, I typically cook with salted butter. The slight difference in salt content between just 1 tablespoon of salted vs unsalted wont make much of a difference in the final result.
Leftover Risotto al Cacio e Pepe
It's quite rare to have leftover risotto, but in the off chance this happens, here are some good ways to store it.
- To refrigerate, simply let it cool to room temperature and place it in an airtight container in the fridge. It'll last for 4-5 days this way.
- To freeze, let it cool to room temperature, place it in a container, then cover it with cling wrap, pressing down to remove all the air. Then cover with the lid and freeze.
- Add 2 tablespoons of water to the leftover risotto and microwave it for 1 minute at a time until hot.
- OR add 2 tablespoons of water to it and heat it in a small pot or pan on the stove until hot.
Doubling the recipe:
The recipe doubles quite nicely. It will take a little longer because you'll have to evaporate more water. If you use a big enough pot with good surface area, it shouldn't change the cook time too much.Print
Cheese, peppery, creamy risotto with just 5 ingredients. An amazing gluten-free side dish you can eat all year long.
- 1 cup of Risotto Rice
- 2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 1 tablespoon of extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 6 cups of water
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- In a medium pot, bring 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil, then reduce the heat to a very low simmer. I also recommend boiling a parmesan rind in the water if you have one. This is optional. Keep covered until ready to use the water.
- In a larger pot such as a 6 quart dutch oven or sauce pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the pepper and stir for 30 seconds, making sure you don't allow it to burn. Then add the risotto to the pepper and butter mixture and stir for 1 minute more.
- Add 1 cup of the hot water to the risotto at a time, stirring frequently throughout. Each time the liquid fully evaporates, add more.
- Start tasting the risotto once you've added about 4 cups of water. Some people like their rice more al dente. Other, like me, prefer it softer. Keep adding water and cooking until you're happy with the texture. Then turn off the heat and stir in the grated parmigiano. I typically stop after 5 cups of water and 25 minutes.
- Spoon the risotto into a serving bowl, top with more black pepper, and enjoy your cheesy, peppery, creamy risotto!
Keywords: risotto cacio e pepe, cacio e pepe risotto