Cacio e pepe is touted for its few ingredients and luscious results—but it’s trickier to pull off than it looks on paper. This cacio e pepe mac and cheese, on the other hand, is silky and cheesy with a sauce that even beginners can’t mess up. It’s packed with black pepper and plenty of pecorino for a rich take on the classic.
A béchamel—a white sauce that’s thickened with flour and butter—is the key to making a foolproof mac that’s creamy and cheesy, yet won’t break or become greasy with heat. Don’t skip toasting the ground pepper; it’s the secret to unlocking tons of flavor.
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to serve
¼ stick unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3½ cups milk (whole or 2% is fine)
8 ounces (about 2 cups) finely grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus more to serve
1 pound short-cut pasta, such as medium shells or chiocciole
1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.
2. While you bring the water to a boil, in medium saucepan over medium-low heat, toast the pepper until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the butter, swirling the pan as it melts. While whisking constantly, sprinkle in the flour and ½ teaspoon salt. Whisk constantly until the flour starts to smell slightly nutty, about 1 minute.
3. Slowly pour the milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the pecorino Romano.
4. By now, the pasta water should be boiling. Cook the pasta according to the package directions or until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and return to the large pot.
5. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta, adding pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce to your desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more salt as needed. Serve with more freshly ground black pepper and pecorino Romano.