This traditional Italian dish of pasta with a simple sauce of cheese and pepper gets a fun twist with the use of orzo!
Today I wanted to share with you one of the simplest Italian side dishes you can make that I’ve been using lately to help me clean out small portions of pasta in my pantry! I’ve always got small amounts of orzo, penne, bowties, and more left from this recipe or that recipe, and making Cacio e Pepe is such a great way to use up what is left! You can make a small amount for one or two or easily make enough to feed a crowd, and the technique of stirring freshly grated cheese, pepper, a bit of butter, and hot pasta water into noodles to make a flavorful sauce could not be any simpler. It’s pretty much a foolproof recipe, and makes for a perfect side dish that you can have ready in no time at all!
Orzo Cacio e Pepe is such a great side to combine with any type of grilled or roasted meat, fish, or to serve on its own with a hearty Italian salad. To me, the texture and taste is a cross between risotto and macaroni and cheese, but the dish is MUCH easier to make than either of those. You can just use Parmesan as the cheese, or get creative with a combination of Parmesan, Asiago, or Pecorino Romano. It would also be fun to jazz things up with a drizzle of truffle oil or aged balsamic on the finished pasta – but trust me, it tastes delicious on its own! The beauty of this dish certainly lies in the simplicity of making it and using just a few, very high-quality ingredients. I was thrilled to find a 2-pound block of 24-month aged Parmesan from Italy at Costco for only $15 – it added so much depth of flavor to my pasta!
- ½ cup of whole wheat dried orzo pasta or ¼ pound of any dried pasta
- Kosher salt
- ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 ½ tablespoons butter diced into small cubes
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 cup of reserved pasta water to use as needed
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the boiling water with a heaping teaspoon of salt. Place the orzo in the boiling water and cook according to package directions or until al dente. Before draining the pasta, ladle out 1 cup of the pasta water into a small bowl to reserve for later use.
Drain the pasta and return it back to the pot you cooked it in. Place the pot back on the burner with the heat turned OFF. Add the grated cheese, butter, black pepper, and ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Stir to combine. Add more pasta water as needed to reach a creamy texture. Serve immediately.
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