Natasha Feldman's cacio e pepe mac and cheese is pure pasta comfort

Your two favorite pasta dishes — on one plate!

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published April 28, 2023 2:30PM (EDT)

Cacio e Pepe (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Cacio e Pepe (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

Maybe it was unusually warm spring weather. Maybe it was something about hitting the third anniversary of that time the whole world shut down. Suddenly, I was a social person again. At last!

I mean, I've seen people — sometimes even away from Zoom — since 2020. But between the pandemic and graduate school and a few other big things, I hadn't had a whole lot of actual fun with people I like to hang out with in a long time.

Over the past few weeks, however, things have felt (almost) normal again. Get-togethers! Drinks! And along has come Natasha Feldman's beautiful, reassuring and just plain fun new book "The Dinner Party Project" to further lift us out of our collective funk and incentivize us to gather over burgers or branzino.

When I talked to Feldman recently for Salon Food, she offered sage advice for the reluctant — or just wildly out of practice — party givers among us. And when I asked what recipe from the book she would recommend for the most anxious of hosts, Feldman didn't hesitate to suggest her cacio e pepe mac and cheese as "something that comes together quickly and is really freaking tasty."

Cacio e pepe is as much an Italian classic as mac and cheese is an American one. When these two beauties get together, the result is magic, and pepper is elevated from its usual place as second fiddle to salt to a full-blown starring role.

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I had to fight with myself to not tweak Feldman's recipe too much. (I just added a little more butter and browned it.) I didn't add any garlic. I kept my hands off the hot sauce. I didn't swap out half the pasta for white beans. If you're going to do cacio e pepe, the first rule is that you do cacio (cheese) and pepe (pepper) and then you back off. It was worth it — super simple and perfectly delicious, exactly as is.

So, if you want to have a few friends over for a totally relaxed, extremely cozy night in, but you've been feeling blocked lately, this is the dish to help you find your hosting groove. Serve with a simple salad to start, followed by a plate of Oreos for dessert, and your guests will think you're a genius.

* * *

Inspired by "The Dinner Party Project: A No-Stress Guide to Food with Friends" by Natasha Feldman

Cacio e Pepe Mac and Cheese
 6 servings
Prep Time
 20 minutes 
Cook Time
 20-25 minutes


The Bread Crumbs

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs

  • Flaky salt

The Pasta

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper, plus extra to finish

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk

  • 1 pound small tubular pasta

  • 2 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for topping




  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter until browned and nutty. Add the bread crumbs and a pinch of flaky salt. Stir until the crumbs are buttery and lightly toasted. Remove from the pot and set aside.

  3. Fill the same pot with water and a generous amount of salt and bring to a boil.

  4. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, add the black pepper and stir just until aromatic, about 1 minute or less. Add the butter and stir until melted. Whisk in the flour and another pinch of salt.

  5. While continuing to whisk, slowly add the milk. Continue stirring occasionally until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes.

  6. While the sauce is bubbling, cook the pasta according to package directions.

  7. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese.

  8. Drain the pasta, saving the starchy cooking water.

  9. Add the pasta to the sauce, stirring until well coated. Add some of the pasta water, a little at a time, until everything holds together but has a slightly loose consistency.

  10. Pour into a 13 x 9-inch baking pan (or if your skillet is oven-proof, leave as is). Top with the breadcrumbs, plus more black pepper and grated cheese.

  11. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until bubbling and golden. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Cook's Notes

I used ditalini to make the version in the photo.

I'm a big fan of not fussing around in the kitchen when I host company. You can prep this recipe ahead of time and bake it when you're ready for dinner.

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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Brown Butter Cacio E Pepe Cheese Food Mac And Cheese Natasha Feldman Pasta Recipe The Dinner Party Project