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Vegan Cheese Sauces (Cacio e Pepe)

Three recipes in one from The Happy Pear, all of them vegan variations on the Italian classic, cacio e pepe, made using cheese, pasta water, and black pepper.


These sauces are all based on the Italian dish cacio e pepe (‘cheese and pepper’), where the sauce is made with just cheese, pasta cooking water and black pepper.

A good trick for adding more flavour to these dishes is to reduce the amount of water you cook the pasta in. Usually the ratio of pasta to water is 1:10, so for example, 100g of pasta would normally be cooked in 1,000ml (1 litre) of water. However, if you cook the pasta in less water – for example, using a 1:5 ratio (100g of pasta cooked in 500ml of water) – it means the pasta cooking water will be more intensely starchy, which will make it easier to form a creamy sauce, and it will be more salty too.

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For Cacio e Pepe:
100g pasta per person
45g grated vegan Parmesan per person
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper per person
For Cheesy Basil and Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce:
100g pasta per person
45g grated vegan Parmesan per person
10g fresh basil leaves per person
30g sun-blushed tomatoes per person
For Olive and Grilled Courgette Sauce:
100g pasta per person
45g grated vegan Parmesan per person
½ sprig fresh thyme per person
20g pitted olives per person (our fave is Kalamata)
30g sliced grilled courgette per person


1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions until al dente, but first making sure that you work out the 1:5 ratio of pasta to cooking water based on how many portions of pasta you’re making (see the recipe intro). Drain the pasta in a colander set over a separate large pot so that you can reserve all the cooking water. Set the pasta aside and continue to boil the pasta water for a further 2 minutes to concentrate the starch.

2. Put the cooked pasta into the large pot that it was sitting over along with the cheese and the herbs or seasoning. Slowly add the reduced pasta water a little at a time until the sauce starts to come together. As you stir, try to bang the pasta off the sides of the pot so that the pasta releases its starch and this creates an emulsion with the melted cheese. A silky-smooth sauce should start to form.

3. Taste and adjust the seasoning with a little more salt if needed, though it will probably be salty enough from the reduced cooking water and the cheese.

4. Stir in the veg (if using), then divide the pasta between wide, shallow bowls and serve straight away, with extra vegan Parmesan on the side for sprinkling over.

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