corn cacio e pepe

As the year is not 2017, when the cacio e pepe frenzy (outside of Rome, where it’s never not on the menu) seemed to have reached peak frenzy and when I put a cross between potatoes Anna and cacio e pepe on the cover of my second cookbook, I’d only choose the dog days of summer 2023 to talk about cacio e pepe once again for a single reason: A worthy update. The only thing I love more than the combination of salty, funky pecorino cheese and copious amounts of black pepper kicking up sparks of heat on a tangle of linguine is the way I make it in the summer: adding sweet, crunchy corn. It is, full stop, the perfect complement to the punchy cheese sauce; they’re made for each other.

If you’re getting deja-vu, it’s because I shared a version of this in 2019 in my Bon Appetit column about feeding picky eaters. But in an effort to make it in as few steps as possible, I added the corn to the pasta cooking water 30 seconds before the pasta was done. Faster! Easier! Everyone wins… right? But it never stuck for me at home. Sometimes a small extra step is worth it, and I so vastly prefer this with the corn first blistered in a pan, I held off for four years but I cannot keep this truth to myself any longer.

Something amazing happens when you add fresh corn to a thin layer of oil in a scorching hot pan — the undersides toast and crisp, a few kernels jump in the air [“whoopee!”] and the whole thing smells a little like popcorn in a way that quick-simmered corn could never. This dish has everything: ease and depth, seasonality and seasoning, and I hope you get obsessed with it too, and soon, before the corn is gone and the cardigans arrive.

corn cacio e pepe-12

Pasta on the brain? We just spent two weeks in Italy and I’ve written up everywhere we went and everything we did on our vacation. See also previous vacations in: Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, London, New Orleans, and Spain.




6 months ago: Pasta with Longer-Cooked Broccoli
1 year ago: Corn Butter Farro
2 year agos: Baked Farro with Summer Vegetables
3 years ago: Mathilde’s Tomato Tart
4 years ago: Black Pepper Tofu and Eggplant
5 years ago: Foccacia Sandwiches for a Crowd
6 years ago: Blackberry-Blueberry Crumb Pie
7 years ago: Summer Squash Pizza, Peach Melba Popsicles, and Chile-Lime Melon Salad
8 years ago: Raspberry Crushed Ice
9 years ago: Cold Noodles with Miso, Lime, and Ginger and Apricot Pistachio Squares
10 years ago: Charred Corn Crepes, Burst Tomato Galette with Corn and Zucchini and Strawberry, Lime, and Black Pepper Popsicles
11 years ago: Pink Lemonade Bars and Charred Pepper Steak Sauce
12 years ago: Sugar Plum Crepes with Ricotta and Honey
13 years ago: Everyday Chocolate Cake and Zucchini and Almond Pasta Salad
14 years ago: Asparagus with Chorizo and Croutons and Sour Cherry Slab Pie
15 years ago: Cantaloupe Salsa and Plum Kuchen and Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad
16 years ago: Huevos Racheros, Blueberry Crumb Bars, Napa Cabbage Salad with Buttermilk Dressing, and Quick Zucchini Sauté
17 years ago: Moules Frites

Corn Cacio e Pepe

  • Servings: 4
  • Source: Smitten Kitchen
  • Print

This recipe is adapted from my 2018 Foolproof Cacio e Pepe, which uses a technique from the chef of Flavio Al Velavevodetto in Rome, which I learned via tour guide Elizabeth Minchilli. To understand why starting with a cold sauce works, read the 2018 headnote. You can watch me make this without corn on YouTube. This recipe works best with cheese from a block, not pre-grated. The directions below are highly detailed (even for me!) because I want you to get this perfect, too.

  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) olive oil
  • About 3 cups fresh corn kernels (from 3 medium-large ears)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1 pound (455 grams) dried linguine or another pasta of your choice
  • 8 ounces (225 grams) pecorino romano cheese, cut into 1-inch chunks, plus a few extra gratings for garnish

Prepare the corn: Heat a large skillet (or the empty pot you will use to cook your pasta) on high heat for one minute. Once hot, add the olive oil, and let the oil heat for one minute. Add the corn kernels, and season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and stir them once or twice, just so they’re evenly coated in the oil and leave them be. Don’t stir again for 3 to 4 minutes, or until toasty brown underneath. Step back as they might crackle and pop, especially towards the end. Add butter and stir to combine, then scrape everything onto a bowl and set aside.

Cook the pasta: Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook linguine until about 30 seconds short of perfect. [We’re not going for a full al dente here because the pasta dish is finished off the heat, thus will not continue cooking.] Before you drain the pasta, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: Get your sauce ready before the pasta has finished cooking, as we want to add it to piping hot noodles. In a food processor or high-speed blender, blend pecorino and approximately 2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper until the cheese is in as fine pieces as it can get. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons cold water, one at a time, fully blending each addition before adding the next. You’re looking to take the cheese from a powdery to a creamy consistency, like frosting for a cake; blend the mixture as long as is needed (about 1 minute) to get it there. Taste the mixture: it should be very salty and peppery; add more pepper if needed (aged pecorino is usually very salty, but if you’re using something else, add salt here too).

Assemble and eat: As soon as your pasta is drained, add it back to the empty pot along with the black pepper-pecorino sauce. The sauce will be too thick for the job, but do your best to distribute it evenly over the noodles. Then, begin adding the reserved pasta water, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, tossing the pasta the whole time. This will loosen the cheese mixture into a nice saucy consistency. Keep adding water, tossing the whole time, but not so much that the sauce “washes” off the noodles. Add reserved corn and toss to mix, then transfer everything to a serving bowl. Finish with more cheese and black pepper and eat right away.

Do ahead: This is not my favorite dish to reheat, but you can make the corn in advance (an hour or a day, just reheat it), and the cheese-pepper sauce (up to a week in the fridge), and have everything ready to go when the pasta is piping hot.

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40 comments on corn cacio e pepe

  1. JP

    Although I am sure it is not ideal, can this be made with frozen corn? If so, should it be thawed first? Cutting corn off the cob is not my favorite past time. Thanks for a new recipe for the end of summer.

    1. EB

      When I’ve made blistered corn like this from frozen, I make sure to drain it really well–defrost it on paper towels and press to get out any extra moisture so it hits the fat in the pan dry. Otherwise it won’t get that nice brown caramelization. I imagine it would work here, though!

      1. AM

        I make blistered corn all the time year round with frozen corn! A few big glugs if oil in a very hot pan, leave 5 minutes until caramelised and blistered, a few tosses and done :) No need to defrost or drain.

    1. Carolyn Chan

      Made this tonight – had the corn in my fridge, went out special for the cheese – and it was fantastic. Went easy on the pepper (maybe half?) this go round since I wasn’t sure what the little ones (1 & 4) would think; they both loved it. Thank you!!!

  2. joriley

    A suggestion if you want leftovers: throw a handful of raw kernels (maybe half an ear’s worth) in with the cheese in lieu of all/part of the water. I did this recently (inspired by a corn cacio e pepe from Pasta Social Club) and the sauce reheated beautifully thanks to the extra starch! I left the pasta and sauce separate in the fridge, topped the cold noodles with a few spoonfuls of sauce, microwaved for 1 minute, and stirred it all up. Worked great for my lunches the rest of the week.

    1. Cherie

      Thanks…Loved this! For a side veggie, I added 3 garden tomatoes to the pasta pot as it was boiling for 1 minute, removed, removed skin, chopped, balsamic and basil. Easy-peasy and nice color to the dish.

  3. Rebecca

    I just wanted to share what I consider to be a life changing way of eating leftover pasta (introduced to me by my husband whose parents emigrated from Italy to Australia when they were young)- broil it (and then of course put an egg on it). I have found it doesn’t matter what kind of sauce you have though cheese/creamy ones are extra delicious, tomato based, pestos etc all work, just spread it out on a baking tray, maybe throw a little extra cheese over it and broil until you get crunchy light brown bits all over. Provides an amazing mix of textures and really bakes the sauce and flavors in. Best breakfast ever.

  4. Margaret

    What a nice coincidence! Not five minutes before seeing this, I’d been messaging with an Italian friend, asking, “Do you Italians eat sweet corn?” and he surprised me with “yes”–and then this recipe showed up!

    I’m fortunate to travel in Italy a couple times a year as a guide, but your trip diary gave me ideas for yet more places to try there–thank you! Glad your family enjoyed it. Venice is especially magical for kids, isn’t it?! I do wish I could see your photos in a bigger format. Looks like you got some wonderful ones.

    1. Cy

      I was in Palermo and Rome recently ( previously only having been in Tuscany and Venice) and all the salads had corn in them. Never seen that before on an Italian menu.

  5. Natali

    So delicious. So easy!! I halved the recipe because I’m cooking for one so the only issue was making the smaller quantity of sauce in my blender. Next time I’ll use my food processor and the full recipe (and quite possibly eat it all myself).

  6. What did I do wrong? The flavor was excellent and there was a good amount of sauce that was liquid, the way it should be. All of the cheese melted initially. However, then some coagulated into lumps. They almost looked like pieces of chicken. Thanks for your help.
    Also, planning on buying your cookbooks for me and for Christmas gifts, but in the meantime, what is the name of the tomato-ricotta recipe on the cover of Book 1?

    1. deb

      Hm, did the cheese melt and maybe split? It seems unlikely since it’s not boiling hot at that point, though. What kind of cheese did you use?

      And thank you. The cover of TSKC is Tomato Scallion Shortcakes with Whipped Goat Cheese. They’re perfect for right now!

      1. Phyllis

        On rind it says Locatelli, so I thought it was the same that you used – pecorino Romano.
        It was still delicious (albeit a bit lumpy) and I’m certainly going to try again!
        The corn was out of this world. Trying to think of other ways that I can use it. I bet just sprinkled on a summer salad w (Jersey) tomatoes would be great.!
        Absolutely love your work:)

        1. Aurora

          I’ve tried cacio e pepe several times and have had a similar thing happen. I think my biggest mistake has been adding too much water; the cheese sort of washes off the noodles and clumps up. I had the best results when I was most watchful and sparing of the added pasta water.

  7. Kate

    I had to use up some things from the fridge tonight, and let me tel you that a couple handfuls of lardons (cooked first, then I tossed in the corn) and an egg (in the cheesy mix) did not go amiss amidst all the other deliciousness here!

  8. Kaiphranos

    At first I thought this was going to be a cacio e pepe/esquites hybrid, and now I’m wondering what that would look like…

  9. Irene P

    I live in Istanbul currently, where there are rotated corn vendors everywhere. I’m going to go down to my corner guy and use that as a shortcut tomorrow for lunch! Yum!

  10. Perfect! Made this almost exactly to the recipe w/ GF fusilli and 1.25 tsp pepper instead of 2 … really fabulous Deb! Only needed 1 Tbl hot pasta water for perfect texture.

    We’ve been watching the epic Italian detective show, Rocco Schiavone and him and his Roman friends always eat cacio e pepe when they’re together… highly recommend watch the show with your babe and a big bowl of this!

    The cold water food processing trick is genius. And I really appreciated the recommendation to use block pecorino Romano because last time (2017 frenzy) I had used pre-shredded lol and it definitely wasn’t as good.

    Served with lamb steak and poached spinach. Excellent!

  11. Elizabeth

    I bought corn today, because it was 17 cents an ear. Now, wondering what’s for dinner, I thought “Deb will help me.” And, lo and behold, there’s the answer, right at the top of the site! Thank you.

  12. Sabina

    This looked so good (and the corn was phenomenal), but like another person mentioned, the cheese sauce fell right off the pasta (I hadn’t even added any of the pasta water). It got all stuck at the bottom of the pan and looked like big wads of chewing gum! Adding pasta water didn’t help either, it only made it more gummy. My husband still liked it, but it was kinda an epic fail. What’d I do wrong? Is it possible I used too much cheese (had no idea how much 225 grams of cheese was). The cheese sauce definitely had the consistency of frosting. Anyway, at least I learned a tasty way to cook up corn.

  13. Joanne

    Made this today using home made pasta. Farm fresh corn cut off the cob was so fresh. Bought pecorino Romano cheese imported from Italy. This was so delicious. Thank you bc for the detailed directions.

  14. Michelle

    I made this the other night and it was absolutely delicious. I had to stop myself from eating it all. The only change I might make in the future is to cut the recipe in hand. It was a lot for our family of four. But definitely a recipe we’ll repeat!

  15. Jaclyn

    I am reading this recipe with my mouth watering, as I shovel down bites of leftover Tomato-Corn cobbler from your third book. You are my corn muse. I love every one of your corn recipes. Tomorrow we will have bacon-corn hash. I just want to eat alllll the corn and peaches and tomatoes right now!

  16. Leah

    This was so good! I barely used any of my reserved pasta water in the sauce. The sauce started to coagulate a little as the pasta cooled down, but for a few beautiful moments my pasta looked exactly like Deb’s. Love it when that happens.

  17. allison

    Deb, why are we not just blending one or tablespoons of pasta water along with the pepper/pecorino mixture in the food processor? Reserve the water, let it cool slightly, then blend before saucing the pasta?

  18. Susan Dritz

    As soon as I saw this recipe I knew I had to try it! My husband is having surgery tomorrow and I wanted to make a special meal. This, along with homegrown tomato slices on the side, was perfect.

  19. Nathan Williams

    Underlying cacio e pepe process was/is great, but I had a couple of issues with the corn.

    First, I couldn’t really get it to toast up – all of the browning accumulated on the bottom of my pan (Lodge enamel Dutch oven) and not on the kernels. Not sure what happened here.

    Second, it was hard to integrate the kernels into the coated pasta and they mostly slipped to the bottom of the pot, and then when I fished them out to serve, to the bottom of people’s bowls. Maybe it would have worked better to add it before the bulk of the mixing and thinning of the sauce?

    Both problems sound like the kernels were somehow waxier or more slippery than expected.

  20. Eileen

    Delicious! Halved recipe for 2 servings, used GF pasta, otherwise followed recipe as written and it was easy to achieve the coveted creamy consistency. Definitely make again.

  21. Erica

    I have been using your Cacio e Pepe method on soba (buckwheat) noodles with roasted mushrooms. Simply amazing! I can’t wait to try the corn.

  22. Bea Mendoza

    Simply delicious. We had the the wrong kind of pecorino (sicilian with truffle!) but it was delicious. I barely had to add any water to the pasta. The fresh corn made it super special.

  23. Robert Smith

    Although I am sure it is not ideal, can this be made with frozen corn? If so, should it be thawed first? Cutting corn off the cob is not my favorite past time. Thanks for a new recipe for the end of summer.

  24. Robert Smith

    It is really very amazing part of information. Although I am sure it is not ideal, can this be made with frozen corn? If so, should it be thawed first? Cutting corn off the cob is not my favorite past time. Thanks for a new recipe for the end of summer.