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Za’atar Cacio e Pepe Recipe

This one-pot Za’atar Cacio e Pepe Recipe with chicken and olives is a spin on traditional Cacio e Pepe. Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi, this recipe gets a flavor boost from za’atar and garlic and is a quick and easy family favorite in our home.

Plate with Tasty One pot Zaatar Cacio e Pepe adapted from Ottolenghi.

My daughter loves Cacio e Pepe. When we had the good fortune to vacation in Rome, she enjoyed Cacio e Pepe like I enjoyed Crema di Limoncello. And, ever since, she has been churning out silky smooth Cacio e Pepe whenever I put her in charge of making a side dish to dishes like this sweet-spicy air fryer salmon or this cilantro lime chicken.

Recently, when I asked her to whip up some Cacio e Pepe to accompany this Miso Glazed Cod, she surprised me with Ottolenghi’s jazzed up Za’atar Cacio e Pepe recipe.

Now, I love my pasta with an extra dose of spices, so I had to have seconds of this tangy, herbally version.

Traditional Cacio e Pepe is usually made by tossing prepared pasta in a creamy pepper sauce that consists of pasta cooking water, butter, pepper, and Pecorino Romano.

However, Yotam Ottolenghi added a generous helping of za’atar along with pepper to his version. I have come to understand that adding other ingredients to traditional Cacio e Pepe can be frowned on, with some saying that Cacio e Pepe just isn’t Cacio e Pepe if the traditional recipe is altered.

But, I found it hard not to share this dish which is a delightful fusion of Italian and Middle Eastern cuisines – especially since I added my own spin and turned it into a one-pot meal with the addition of garlic, onion, chicken, and olives. I know, I know, this just might be blasphemy! But, it is well worth a try.

Ingredients to make Zaatar cacio e pepe

We love this Za’atar Cacio e Pepe Recipe because:

✔️ It is SO flavorful,
✔️ It is So easy,
✔️ It is a one-pot meal,
✔️ It requires ONLY 9 pantry-staple ingredients,
✔️ And, did I mention – it is SO incredibly tasty!

Wondering what is Za’atar?

Za’atar is a highly aromatic herb and spice mix, usually consisting of sumac, sesame seed, and herbs. It is popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. I love using za’atar in chicken dishes as well as in pasta dishes like this one.

Adding in olives to Zaatar cacio e pepe.

How to make this Za’atar Cacio e Pepe:

  1. Start by bringing the water to a boil.
  2. Add the pasta to the water along with a bit of salt. Let pasta boil until it is barely al-dente (about 2 minutes less than package specifies to boil it for), stirring often so the pasta does not stick.
  3. When done, drain the pasta water into a container and set pasta and pasta cooking water aside.
  4. Add oil or butter to a large pan.
  5. Add in the za’atar and pepper and stir so the spices toast.
  6. Add in the chopped onion and garlic and stir well.
  7. Then add in the finely diced chicken and stir well.
  8. Add in the cooked pasta and pasta water
  9. Stir in the Pecorino Romano
  10. Add in the olives if you are using them.
  11. After this Za’atar Cacio e Pepe has rested for a few minutes, dig in and enjoy!
Making Zaatar Cacio E Pepe

Tips:

These are a few tips that I found handy when making this easy one-pot Za’atar Cacio e Pepe Recipe:

  1. Salting the water the pasta is cooking in infuses the pasta and the water with flavor which means a more flavorful Cacio e Pepe.
  2. Stirring the pasta frequently while it cooks keeps it from sticking together – especially since it is boiling in less water than normal.
  3. Cooking the pasta until it is barely al dente – usually, a couple of minutes before the package says to cook it for. The pasta will continue to cook when it is added to the pan with the pepper, za’atar, and chicken so best it is undercooked and not overcooked as that could lead to a mushy Za’atar Cacio e Pepe.
  4. Using a pan that is large enough to hold all of the ingredients.
  5. Adding pepper and za’atar to the pan in the beginning part of making the “sauce” so they can toast up a bit and impart so much more flavor to this dish.
  6. Letting the pasta rest for just a few minutes before serving so the sauce can thicken up a bit and the flavors can develop further.
Grabbing a plate of One-pot Zaatar Cacio e Pepe adapted from Ottolenghi.
Plate with Tasty One pot Zaatar Cacio e Pepe adapted from Ottolenghi.

Za'atar Cacio e Pepe Recipe

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

This one-pot Za’atar Cacio e Pepe with chicken and olives is a spin on traditional Cacio e Pepe. Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi, this recipe gets a flavor boost from za’atar and garlic and is a quick and easy family favorite in our home.

Ingredients

  • 1.3 liters water
  • Salt
  • 400g dried pasta of your choice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 1 tbsp za’atar
  • 2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 a small yellow onion - finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic - finely diced
  • 1 chicken breast - finely diced
  • 2 tbsp pecorino romano, very finely grated
  • 2 tsp chopped olives

Instructions

  1. Start by peeling the skin of the onion and garlic and dice them up finely.
  2. Also, dice the chicken breast up into very small pieces - I chose to dice up the chicken into smaller than bite-sized pieces.
  3. If you are using olives, chop them up as well so all the ingredients are prepped and ready.
  4. Bring the water to a boil in a large pan.
  5. Add the pasta to the water along with a couple of pinches of salt. Let pasta boil until it is barely al-dente (about 2 minutes less than package specifies to boil it for), stirring often so the pasta does not stick.
  6. When done, drain the pasta water into a container and set pasta and pasta cooking water aside.
  7. Add oil or butter to the large pan.
  8. Add in the za’atar and pepper and stir so the spices toast - about a minute or so.
  9. Add in the chopped onion and garlic and stir well for about 5 minutes.
  10. Then add in the finely diced chicken and stir well until the chicken is cooked. As the chicken is diced so finely, it should cook in about 10 minutes.
  11. Add in the cooked pasta and pasta water and toss well, using some kitchen tongs for about a minute.
  12. Stir in the Pecorino Romano and toss.
  13. Add in the olives if you are using them and toss well.
  14. After this Za’atar Cacio e Pepe has rested for a few minutes, dig in and enjoy!
Nutrition Information
Yield 4 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 416Total Fat 13gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 8gCholesterol 36mgSodium 295mgCarbohydrates 34gFiber 3gSugar 1gProtein 16g

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Tandy | Lavender and Lime

Thursday 4th of March 2021

We are on the same wavelength! I have been playing around with Cacio e Pepe and made a few alternatives this past weekend to test them :) Yours looks so good! Be safe, Tandy

Ben | Havocinthekitchen

Wednesday 3rd of March 2021

While I like more rich and filling pasta sauces every now and then, I do love  Cacio e Pepe for its simplicity yet an excellent flavour profile. And adding za’atar? Why not! It has some lovely lemon aroma that must nicely work with other pasta ingredients. It looks delicious, too!

John / Kitchen Riffs

Wednesday 3rd of March 2021

Cacio e Pepe is one of our favorites, too. Quick and easy to prepare, and SO good. Haven't added za'atar to it -- neat idea. Gotta try that. Thanks!

David @ Spiced

Wednesday 3rd of March 2021

Woah. That plate of pasta. It needs to be in my kitchen ASAP! I absolutely love cacio e pepe - the simplicity is the grace of it. But then amping up that recipe with za'atar? I'm intrigued! This sounds like it's packed with flavor! It's going on the menu soon...well, unless you deliver? :-)

Gail Montero

Tuesday 2nd of March 2021

I bet using an aromatic herb and spice mix to make this brings so much more flavor! YUM!

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