The Washington Post

Za’atar Cacio e Pepe

Za’atar Cacio e Pepe 4.000

Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Marie Ostrosky for The Washington Post

Eat Voraciously Newsletter Weeknight Vegetarian Oct 18, 2020

Za’atar, the Middle Eastern spice blend, adds a layer of herbaceousness to the simple and classic Italian pasta of cheese and black pepper. To get the sauce super-smooth, grate the cheese as finely as possible (using a Microplane-style grater), and cook the pasta in a wide pan with much less water than usual. The latter technique packs the cooking water with starch, which is key to emulsifying the sauce.

Active time: 15 mins; Total time: 30 mins

4 - 6

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 4-6 servings

  • 7 cups water
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for finishing
  • 1 pound dried bucatini (or other long pasta, cooking time adjusted if necessary)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons za’atar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 4 ounces parmesan cheese, very finely grated
  • 1 ounce pecorino Romano cheese, very finely grated
  • 2 teaspoons whole fresh marjoram or thyme leaves (optional)


In a deep, wide skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil, then stir in the salt. Add the bucatini and cook for 9 minutes (or per package instructions) until al dente, stirring every now and then so they don’t stick together or to the bottom of the pan, and to ensure they are submerged. Add hot water if necessary to keep the pasta covered. Drain, reserving all the cooking water. (You should have about 2 1/4 cups water; if not, add enough hot water until you do.)

In a large, high-sided, nonstick saute pan over high heat, cook the butter until bubbling, then stir in 1 tablespoon of the za’atar and the pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the reserved cooking water, bring to a rapid boil and cook until silky and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the pasta and stir vigorously into the sauce. Add the Parmesan in two batches, continuing to stir vigorously as you go and waiting until the first half has melted before adding the next. Once all the Parmesan has melted, add the pecorino, continuing to stir, until it has also melted and the sauce is smooth and silky.

Transfer the pasta to a lipped platter and sprinkle with the marjoram or thyme (if using), remaining 2 teaspoons za’atar and a small pinch of salt. Serve hot.

Recipe Source

Adapted from “Ottolenghi Flavor” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage (Ten Speed Press, 2020).

Tested by Joe Yonan.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving (based on 6): 387

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 12g 18%

Saturated Fat: 7g 35%

Cholesterol: 28mg 9%

Sodium: 547mg 23%

Total Carbohydrates: 58g 19%

Dietary Fiber: 3g 12%

Sugar: 4g

Protein: 11g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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