Cacio e Pepe-Stuffed Shells with Crispy Crumbs

Cacio e Pepe-Stuffed Shells with Crispy Crumbs

We’ve taken the classic Roman pasta dish known as cacio e pepe, or “cheese and pepper,” to a new level with this decadent dish that’s perfect for an autumn dinner party. Jumbo pasta shells are filled with three types of cheese, then baked in a rich béchamel sauce seasoned with a generous quantity of black pepper. Crisp breadcrumbs tossed with fresh thyme provide a nice contrast to the creamy pasta. If you’d like to spread the prep out over two days, you can make the breadcrumbs and cook and fill the pasta shells a day in advance.

1 hr 45 mins total time

45 mins active time


Serves 6-8



For the crispy breadcrumbs:

  • 1½ cups (3 oz) fresh breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup (2 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt

    to season

  • Freshly ground black pepper

    to season

For the shells:

  • Kosher salt

    to season

  • 1 lb jumbo pasta shells

For the cheese filling:

  • 3½ cups (31 oz) ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup (4 oz) grated pecorino cheese
  • ¾ cup (3 oz) grated parmesan cheese

For the béchamel:

  • 6 tbsp (3 oz) unsalted butter

    cut into 6 pieces

  • 6 tbsp (2 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups (40 fl oz) milk
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt

    or to taste

  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (4 oz) grated pecorino cheese
  • ½ cup (2 oz) grated parmesan cheese

For assembling:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil

    to brush

  • ½ cup (2 oz) grated pecorino cheese
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper


  • 1Insert the wire rack into position 6. Meanwhile, continue to the next step.
  • 2Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl, add the oil, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir until combined. Spread crumbs evenly onto roasting pan.
  • 3Once preheated, place the pan in the oven and start the timer. When the Rotate Remind signals, stir the crumbs and continue cooking. Meanwhile, cook the pasta.
  • 4The crumbs should be golden brown. If not, give it a bit more.
  • 5Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions, until al dente. Drain reserving ½ cup 4 fl oz of the pasta water.
  • 6Place the shells, with the open side up, in a single layer on a baking sheet and let cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, make the cheese filling.
  • 7In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta, whole egg, egg yolk, lemon zest, pecorino, Parmesan, 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Transfer the filling to a pastry bag with a large plain tip.
  • 8Pipe the filling into the cooled pasta shells, dividing it evenly and filling each shell about halfway.
    Tip: The filled shells can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator overnight.
  • 9In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking occasionally, until a smooth paste forms, about 1 minute. Add 2 tsp. pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture smells toasty, about 3 minutes.
  • 10Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly until smooth. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking constantly to prevent the bottom from burning, for 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick and velvety. Whisk in the pecorino and Parmesan, then add 5 tablespoons 2½ fl oz of the reserved pasta water until smooth. Remove from the heat and season generously with about 2 tablespoons salt, or to taste.
  • 11The oven will preheat. Meanwhile, continue to the next step.
  • 12Brush a 5-quart braiser with olive oil. Spread one-third of the béchamel on the bottom of the prepared pan, then arrange the filled shells, open side up, on top of the béchamel. Ladle the remaining béchamel over the shells.
  • 13Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, pecorino and pepper.
    Tip: Crumbs can be transferred to a food processor and pulsed briefly into smaller crumbs.
  • 14Once preheated, place in the oven and start the timer.
  • 15The sauce should be bubbling, the breadcrumbs dark golden brown and pasta shells very tender. If not, give it a bit more.
  • 16Let cool for a few minutes, then drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Serve immediately.