Burnt butter lemon cacio e pepe is a unique take on the classic Italian pasta dish that adds a tangy and nutty flavor to the traditional recipe. With just a few simple ingredients, this dish is easy to make and perfect for a quick weeknight dinner or a special occasion.
Burnt Butter Lemon Cacio e Pepe
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons butter divided
- 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 lb spaghetti
- 1 ½ cups finely grated parmesan
- ½ cup finely grated pecorino
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Melt ¼ cup butter in a large saute pan over low heat. Continue to heat until butter is deeply browned, almost burnt. Add black pepper and lemon zest and heat for 30 seconds, stirring to combine. Remove from heat and set aside while you cook the pasta.
- Heat a pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 ½ cups cooking water.
- Turn on the heat for the burnt butter sauce to medium. Add cooked pasta, 1 cup reserved pasta water, and 2 tablespoons butter, stirring until butter is melted. Add parmesan and pecorino, stirring to combine until cheese is melted. Add additional reserved pasta water if the pasta is too dry. Season with salt and finish with lemon juice.
- Divide pasta into 4 plates and finish with extra freshly cracked black pepper and parmesan if desired. Serve immediately.
Watch how to make this:
Cacio e pepe is one of the most basic plates of pasta, but boy is it delicious. All you need is parmesan, butter, freshly cracked black pepper, and good quality pasta to prepare an amazing pasta. It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite Italian dishes.
Now, I don't want to butcher the classic dish since it's already pretty darn perfect. But what if I could elevate the flavors? And that's where the burnt butter enters the picture.
I recently discovered burnt butter while trying an appetizer at a restaurant. It was so delicious that I was immediately inspired to come home and create my own whipped feta with tamarind burnt butter. Now I'm looking for ways to incorporate it into as many dishes as I can and what could be more perfect than a burnt butter lemon cacio e pepe? The subtle flavors come together in this updated version of the classic to create one beautiful dish. Dare I say, I might like it just a tad more than the original.
- Lemon: Although traditional cacio e pepe doesn't have lemon, the acid in this recipe helps balance the richness of the burnt butter and cheese. Use fresh lemon for best results.
- Parmesan: A hard, cheese made from cow's milk with a sharp, nutty flavor. I do not recommend substituting parmesan for another cheese.
- Pecorino: A hard, salty cheese made from sheep milk with a sharp flavor. If you can't find pecorino, substitute it with an equal amount of parmesan cheese.
- Butter: Since burnt butter is one of the main flavor components of this dish, I do not recommend replacing the butter with another fat.
- Spaghetti: Spaghetti is the traditional choice for cacio e pepe but you can use another long, thin pasta such as bucatini or fettuccine.
How to Make Burnt Butter Lemon Cacio e Pepe
Step 1: Make Burnt Butter
Burnt butter is essentially browned butter taken one step further. The butter isn't completely burned but nearly there. It should look very dark in color and smell smoky. Take your time with the butter to avoid burning it completely. Slowly heat it over low heat and keep an eye on it, adjusting the heat as needed.
When the butter is ready, add freshly cracked black pepper and lemon zest, stirring to combine. Now set aside the sauce while you cook the pasta.
Step 2: Cook the Pasta
Since this burnt butter lemon cacio e pepe consists of only a few ingredients, it's important to use high-quality ones, including the pasta. I always reach for the bronze die spaghetti because bronze-cut pasta absorbs sauce more effectively. Hence, a better pasta dish.
While the pasta is cooking, finely grate the parmesan and pecorino. Again, make sure to use high-quality cheeses. You can use just parmesan if you prefer but the mixture of the two delivers a better overall flavor.
As soon as the pasta reaches the al dente stage, drain it, reserving 1 ½ cups of the pasta water.
Step 3: Putting It All Together
Then, add the pasta to the burnt butter sauce along with 1 cup of the reserved pasta water, and 2 tablespoons of butter.
Add both kinds of cheese and stir the pasta until fully combined. If you find that there is barely any sauce, add a touch more pasta water.
Season the cacio e pepe with salt and fresh lemon juice to finish. Portion the burnt butter lemon cacio e pepe into plates and finish with extra black pepper, and parmesan, if desired.
With my first bite, I knew I had done it. I found a way to keep the integrity of cacio e pepe but with a slight twist. The burnt butter adds a hint of nuttiness to the dish while the lemon balances the heaviness. It's pure heaven. And hopefully, you'll agree!
Can I use pre-grated cheese?
Since this burnt butter lemon cacio e pepe only has a few ingredients, it's important to use the best quality products. This means using freshly grated cheese.
What proteins would go well with this dish?
If you want to add meat, you can add some cooked bacon, pancetta, grilled chicken, or even shrimp.
Can I make this recipe ahead of time?
This recipe is best served immediately. However, you can prepare the burnt butter sauce ahead of time and reheat it when you're ready to cook the pasta.
For more vegetarian pasta inspiration check out this caramelized leek and mushroom gruyere pasta!