A quick pantry pasta recipe that satisfies on every level, with creamy, cheesy black pepper sauce, Italian pancetta and sweet peas.
Is this creamy lemon cacio e pepe recipe the real deal?
Well, let’s talk.
Admittedly, my recipe is a mash-up, combining elements from one of my all-time favorite quick pantry pasta recipes, Lemon Linguine, (from Nigella Lawson’s fabulous book How to Eat, her first cookbook and the one I love the best) with pasta carbonara’s egg yolk and crisp bits of pancetta.
With this sauce you get the tangy taste and fragrance of lemon juice and lemon zest, the mouth-coating lusciousness of cream, and the earthy heat of black pepper mixed with pasta, caramelized porky bits and sweet peas. How does that not all add up to the best of all pasta worlds?!
Let me just tell you, it does. I love creamy lemon cacio e pepe. It’s an incredibly simple dish you can make on the fly in 15 minutes, and with the addition of an egg yolk and mascarpone cheese, the cheesy peppery pasta dish known as cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) takes on an extra level of delish.
It may be easy to prepare, but like all simple things, the beauty is in the details.
How to make the best lemon cacio e pepe sauce:
- Use excellent quality dried pasta. If you happen to splurge on some pricey artisan pasta — great! You’re gonna take this recipe to the next level. Delverde dried pasta is a good and affordable option. Any pasta you can find that’s extruded through bronze dies will be a winner.
- Use another long sturdy noodle like bucatini, thick spaghetti or linguine instead of tagliatelle
- Cacio e pepe is a simple dish based on just a few essential ingredients — the pasta, cheese and black pepper. So do yourself a favor and seek out whole Tellicherry peppercorns. They really taste and smell better than regular peppercorns. If you don’t believe me, try putting them side by side and taking a whiff.
- And as for the cheese, definitely buy chunks of real Italian pecorino and parmesan and grate them yourself. I like a blend of cheeses, but using just one will still taste great.
I associate creamy lemon pasta with spring and green things, so I threw in some frozen sweet peas (happily available all year long).
But this is an adaptable recipe — try some sliced asparagus stalks or even fava beans when they’re available. A big handful of tender baby greens like spinach or arugula, tossed with the hot drained pasta is another tasty addition.
creamy lemon cacio e pepe with pancetta and peas
Yield 2 - 4 servings
- I use a mixture of grated cheeses in this recipe: sheep's milk Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano. If you don't have both kinds on hand, use just one of them instead.
- Tellicherry peppercorns have the best flavor, with rich, warm heat and beautiful aroma. Grind them in a spice grinder just before making the pasta.
- The recipe will satisfy 2 to 4 people (it's pretty rich). If you want to make sauce for a pound of pasta, double up on the ingredients, but use discretion with the black pepper so it doesn't overwhelm the dish — try 1 1/2 tablespoons at first and taste.
- 4 ounces pancetta, diced
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
- 3/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt (like Maldon) or 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons each freshly grated Pecorino Romano and Parmigiana Reggiano cheese (or 1/4 cup of one type), plus additional for serving
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black peppercorns
- Kosher salt
- 8 ounces dried fettuccine or tagliatelle pasta
- 1 cup shelled fresh or frozen peas
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Put the pancetta in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta to a paper-towel lined plate.
- Whisk together the egg yolk, mascarpone and flaky salt in a bowl. Zest the lemon into the bowl, then halve the lemon and squeeze the juice of one half into the bowl. Stir in the cheese and black pepper.
- Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan or stock pot and season with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drop the peas into the pot 2 minutes before draining. Scoop out and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
- Put the hot drained pasta back into the pot and toss with the butter until it melts. Whisk 1/4 cup of the cooking water into the egg yolk mixture until smooth, then pour over the pasta and toss together with tongs. Drizzle in more water if the sauce seems too thick (keep in mind it will thicken as it sits).
- Add the pancetta to the pasta and toss gently to disperse. Serve the pasta with additional cheese.