My Vegan Cacio e Pepe has spaghetti in a minimalist creamy and slightly tangy cheese sauce with generous toasted black pepper. It’s a simple and elegant pasta dish.
Intro to Vegan Cacio e Pepe
I’m continuously impressed by the simplicity of the classic Italian recipes. Pasta sauces like ragu alla bolognese and puttanesca are often made with 10 ingredients or less. The original Cacio e Pepe, an extreme example, can be made with two – cheese and black pepper.
I wanted to develop and share a vegan version that captured the same flavor profile:
- Rich nuttiness from toasted almonds, cashews, and sesame seeds
- A parmesan-like umami from white miso and nutritional yeast
- The spicy-floral fragrance of black pepper toasted in olive oil
- A mild, briny tang similar, to what you’d get from sheep’s cheese
While the recipe is slightly more complicated than the original (there is some blending involved), I was happy with how the dish came out. (And I got wholehearted endorsement from the omnivores I shared the pasta with.)
How to make Vegan Cacio e Pepe
There are four main steps to making this and each one is pretty simple. Here goes:
Toast the Nuts and Sesame Seeds
This is optional if your nuts and seeds are already roasted, but it makes a big difference. Freshly toasted nuts just fill your mouth with flavor.
I like to roast the almonds and cashews at 350 F (175 C) for up to 10 minutes and the sesame seeds for 2-3 minutes. Do be careful not to toast either of them too dark.
Also note that you can even toast nuts that are already toasted and it will help develop their flavor a lot.
Boil the Pasta
When boiling the pasta, take care not to oversalt the water, since you’ll use some of it in the sauce.
You’ll want to boil the pasta for 1-2 minutes less than the time recommended on the package, since you’ll be sauteing it in the sauce for a couple more minutes.
You can begin making the sauce while waiting for the water to boil.
Make the Sauce
Traditionally, the “sauce” in Cacio e Pepe is simply melted cheese mixed with pasta boiling water. To mimic the special flavor of pecorino romano, the cheese historically used in the dish I blend the toasted nuts and sesame seeds with white miso and sauerkraut brine.
I also mix in a bit of pasta boiling water so that the blender has enough liquid to get the sauce smooth.
Combine and Saute
In a large skillet you’ll heat some olive oil and toast some coarsely ground black pepper in it. This helps develop the flavor of the pepper. With the grassy notes of the olive oil the pepper takes on an almost floral character.
You’ll then add the pasta and the blended sauce into the skillet with the pepper and oil. Stir it well, and cook it until the pasta is cooked through and the sauce is to your desired consistency.
While this is not meant to be a super saucy dish, you can add as much pasta boiling water as you need to keep the sauce thin enough to coat the noodles evenly.
How to Serve Vegan Cacio e Pepe
The dish is ready as soon as the pasta is cooked through, though you may want to add a bit more black pepper to taste. I’ve found that packaged vegan “parmesan” cheese also makes a nice garnish.
If you want to make this ahead of time or for meal prep, I’d recommend making the sauce thinner than you otherwise would, since the sauce volume will be reduced as the pasta is stored and reheated.
More Italian (and Italian-American) Inspired Vegan Pasta
- Spaghetti alla Puttanesca – uses miso and nori to add a briny umami to the tomato sauce
- Ragu alla Bolognese – the classic red pasta sauce, bursting with richness from mushrooms, eggplant, and other veggies
- Pasta Primavera – tons of different green veggies over pasta with a light, refreshing cream sauce
- Marinara Sauce – highlights the concentrated flavors of canned tomatoes and accents it with garlic
- Spaghetti alla Carbonara – a creamy, “eggy” sauce and king oyster mushroom “bacon”
Some Refreshing Salads to Serve Before the Pasta
- Vegan Caesar Salad – refreshing romaine with a tangy, funky sauce and crunchy homemade croutons
- Fennel and Radicchio Salad – a fun salad to eat with flavors and colors all over the spectrum
- Watermelon and Arugula Salad – the peppery leaves and sweet, juicy melon are magic together
As always, if you try this recipe out, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @gastroplant on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.
Vegan Cacio e Pepe
- 1/4 cup roasted almonds unsalted
- 1/4 cup roasted cashews unsalted
- 1/2 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/4 cup sauerkraut brine
- 1/2 cup plant milk unflavored and unsweetened
- 12 ounces uncooked spaghetti
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper plus more for garnish
- Vegan parmesan shredded (optional)
Toast the Nuts and Seeds (Optional but Recommended)
- Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). When the oven is hot, spread the almonds and cashews in a single layer. Roast until the cashews are golden brown. The almonds should also be done at this point. It can take up to 10 minutes. Be sure to stir the nuts often for more even roasting. Be careful not to over roast them.
- You can toast the sesame seeds at the same time, though they’ll need less time – 2-3 minutes.
Boil the Pasta
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Boil the spaghetti according to the instructions on the package, but 1-2 minutes less than the time recommended. Reserve 3 cups of the pasta boiling water before draining the pasta and setting it aside.
Blend the Sauce
- Combine the toasted nuts and sesame seeds, the miso, nutritional yeast, sauerkraut brine, plant milk, and 1 cup of the pasta boiling water. Blend on high until smooth 1-2 minutes. You can gradually add pasta boiling water as needed, if there isn’t enough liquid for your blender to blend properly.
Combine and Saute
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the black pepper and give it a gentle stir, then let it toast for 1 minute.
- Add the sauce and stir it together with the pepper. When the sauce reaches a simmer, add the pasta and stir well to coat evenly. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked through and the sauce reaches your desired consistency (it’s not intended to be especially saucy). And you can gradually stir in pasta boiling water as needed to thin out the sauce.
Garnish and serve
- You can add more black pepper to the pasta, if you like, before serving. Sprinkle vegan parmesan, if using, over the pasta. Serve hot, immediately.