Vegan Cacio e Pepe: I Made it, Tried it, and it’s Delicious

Cacio e Pepe is one of those staple menu items at Italian restaurants that you’re tempted to order each time. Having only four ingredients, its simplicity is what makes the dish so incredibly appealing — pasta, cheese, pepper, and salt. That’s it! I mean, the description is in the title — cacio (cheese) & pepe (pepper). That’s why when I was recently asked about making a vegan version I was a bit skeptical about mimicking the dish (but the cheese!?). Full disclosure, I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but I do appreciate giving meat and dairy a break from time to time. And after making this version, I’m fully on board! You can have your break and eat it too. I’m so thrilled to have this vegan cacio e pepe in my repertoire of recipes.

vegan cacio e pepe

How to make vegan cheese

The thing about pasta dishes is, like most people, I love to douse it in parmesan cheese (as you can see in the image above). I’m the person who unapologetically takes forever to say ‘when’ as the server grates fresh Parmesan cheese over my bolognese. So, I knew when making this dish I would have to find a way to cover the pasta in ‘cheese.’ I combed through the internet to learn how to achieve a cheesy like flavor and landed on this unanimous ingredient: nutritional yeast. I’m now hooked on this stuff.

PRO TIP: sprinkle nutritional yeast on popcorn, in homemade pasta sauce, on meatballs; you can do no wrong.

I also realized I needed to balance the nutritional yeast with something. I tried processing cashews, which can resemble a milky profile when blended, but that did NOT work. Turns out, almond flour gives the perfect texture of grated Parmesan cheese so I reached for just that. I also added a bit more flavor to it with salt, onion powder, and garlic powder.

vegan cacio e pepe

How to make cacio e pepe

First you’ll want to cook your pasta to its instructions. Usually 10 minutes gives you perfectly al dente pasta. Then, as the pasta cooks, you’ll want to make the ‘cheese sauce.’

This is where the magic happens. This is where we create the light cheesy ‘sauce’ to wrap around each stand of spaghetti or whatever your pasta is of choice. It’s a good thing I didn’t put the cashews away because they work perfectly at this stage. It’s pretty amazing that this one nut can mimic a dairy-like profile. I soaked them, blended with water, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper.

Once the pasta is just about done, you’ll heat up a sauté pan with olive oil and pour in about 1 cup of the cashew goodness. Don’t drain all the pasta water when the pasta is cooked, I repeat, don’t drain out all the water. Reserve about 1/2 cup of it to cut it with the cashew sauce. Add your pasta and mix all together.

Vegan Cacio e Pepe

Vegan Cacio e Pepe

Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

Make the Vegan Parmesan Cheese

  • 3/4 cup of almond flour
  • 1.5 tbsp of nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 1/4 tsp of garlic powder 
  • 1/4 tsp of onion powder 

Make the Sauce

  • 1 cup of unsalted cashews (soaked for 45 minutes, then drained)
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp of water
  • 1.5 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 
  • 1/4 tsp of garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp of onion powder 
  • 1 tsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • black pepper

Make the pasta

  • 1 lb of whole wheat pasta 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • 1/2 cup of pasta water (you likely won't use it all)
  • lemon zest

Instructions

  1. Make the vegan parmesan cheese: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.
  2. Cook your pasta according to instructions. Ten minutes should give you perfect al dente pasta.
  3. Make your cashew sauce: blend all ingredients in a blender or magic bullet
  4. When pasta is just about ready, add olive oil to a saute pan on low to medium heat. Before you drain the pasta, reserve 1.5 c of the water and set aside. You will need it to cut the cashew sauce.
  5. Add 1 cup of cashew sauce to heated pan and cut it with 3/4 cup of pasta water. Add more if needed.
  6. Add drained pasta to pan and mix together. Add more sauce if needed.
  7. Salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Zest lemon on top and add vegan parmesan cheese to your liking.
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