Main Dishes

August 18, 2022

Healthy Shrimp Cacio e Pepe

Made with just 5 ingredients in 15 minutes, this recipe for Healthy Cacio e Pepe with Shrimp will be your new favorite weeknight dinner. It's so easy to make, it's high in protein, and it's naturally gluten free and dairy free too!

Ever since I lived in New Zealand, I've had a hard time with really starchy foods like pasta and rice.

Not that they're bad foods, they just don't sit well with me.

But then I discovered chickpea pasta and my life changed.

My tummy doesn't hurt when I eat it, it is more nutritious than regular pasta, and my husband can't even tell. Triple win!

I've written so many pasta recipes with chickpea pasta like my Easy Skillet Mac and Cheese, homemade spaghetti sauce, and this Instant Pot Chicken Broccoli Alfredo.

This one is just as delicious as the others but it's even easier to make and healthier too!

A bowl of shrimp cacio e pepe


Why you'll love this recipe

  • SO easy to make: just a few ingredients and 15 minutes is all you need!
  • Healthy comfort food: it's a creamy, buttery pasta dish without the inflammatory foods. You'll actually feel good after eating this pasta recipe!
  • Nourishing ingredients: thanks to chickpea pasta and nutritional yeast, this healthy cacio e pepe recipe is naturally gluten free and dairy free.
  • Shrimp: need I say more? Buttery, pan seared shrimp is the protein of choice and it does not disappoint!
  • Customizable: you can switch out the shrimp for another protein, add your favorite cheese (like pecorino romano), or use any butter you like.

Noodles with cooked shrimp on top


What is cacio e pepe?

Cacio e pepe is an Italian pasta dish made with a few simple ingredients. Literally translated, "cacio e pepe" means "cheese and pepper."

Traditionally, the sauce is made with melted butter, pecorino romano cheese, and black pepper.

Is cacio e pepe the same as carbonara?

Pasta Carbonara is cooked pasta tossed in a sauce made with eggs and parmesan cheese, while Cacio e Pepe is cooked pasta tossed in a sauce made with melted butter, pecorino romano cheese, and black pepper.

However, both rely on the hot pasta and a bit of reserved pasta water to create a thin, creamy sauce.

Is cacio e pepe similar to Alfredo?

Cacio e pepe remains a true, authentic Italian dish and only requires a few simple ingredients, but Alfredo is considered Italian-American and is usually made with a roux and heavy cream in addition to cheese and spices.

How do you pronounce cacio?

With an American accent, you would pronounce cacio "KA-chee-o," with the emphasis on the first syllable.

Ingredients for shrimp cacio e pepe


Healthy cacio e pepe ingredients

My recipe for cacio e pepe is a lighter and healthier version on the traditional dish because it's naturally gluten free and dairy free.

For this recipe, you'll need:

  • Plant based butter: I always use this olive oil butter because it's dairy free and has heart healthy fats from monounsaturated fats rather than the less nutritious saturated fats. However, you can use any unsalted butter you like.
  • Chickpea pasta: my favorite brand is Banza (not sponsored) because their pasta tastes just like regular pasta but it's gluten free, packed with plant based protein, and has more fiber.
  • Nutritional yeast: a vegan substitute for cheese with a savory, nutty flavor that mimics pecorino romano. It's also loaded with all the B vitamins and plant based protein as well.
  • Black pepper: the "pepe" of the dish. I highly recommend using fresh cracked black pepper because it has so much more flavor and it's much harder to overdo the pepper flavor.
  • Shrimp: for a hearty serving of lean protein that cooks up quickly. I usually use deveined raw medium shrimp, but you can really use any size you like. If you're using frozen shrimp, follow the package instructions for thawing before using in the recipe.
  • Reserved pasta water: this is crucial so don't forget it! The starchy pasta water is what creates the sauce and it also helps the sauce stick to the noodles. You'll need about one cup pasta water.

Cooked shrimp on a skillet

Substitutions and variations

If you want to use regular cheese, I would use two ounces grana padano cheese with one ounce pecorino romano cheese for the best flavor. You'll need a splash of milk or cream to help thin out the sauce, too. If you want to really go the extra mile, you could add a tablespoon or two of pecorino cream!

Any noodles will work for this recipe.

Any butter will work, including soft butter.

Add a splash of lemon juice (not too much lemon juice!) or a teaspoon meyer lemon zest to the butter sauce for a bright lemon parmesan sauce!

Add an extra depth of flavor by mincing garlic cloves and sauteing them in the butter and pepper.

Not a fan of shrimp? Use equal amounts of chicken or tofu for a vegan option.

A bowl of shrimp cacio e pepe


How to make healthy shrimp cacio e pepe

Step 1: boil the pasta. Cook the pasta in a large pot until al dente. Reserve one cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta completely but do not rinse.

Step 2: saute the shrimp. Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat and spray with cooking spray. Add the shrimp in a single layer to the hot oil and season with kosher salt and pepper.

Cook 3-4 minutes until the shrimp is pink around the edges and almost completely white. Flip and cook an additional 1-2 minutes.

Remove from the heat and set aside.

Step 3: make the butter sauce. In the same large pan, reduce to medium heat, respray with cooking spray, and add the four tablespoons of butter. As the butter melts, add in lots of fresh cracked black pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes.

Step 4: combine all the elements. By now, your pasta should be nearly finished or just finished. Once the noodles are cooked, toss immediately in the butter sauce and add half the pasta water and all the nutritional yeast.

Continue adding pasta water until the cacio e pepe is thin, creamy, and silky smooth.

Pro tip: air on the side of caution and add more pasta water than you think. Once the pasta cools, it will thicken up and if there's not enough water, you'll end up with a sticky, gooey mess.

Once the cacio e pepe is ready, gently fold in the cooked shrimp.

Garnish with more fresh cracked black pepper and enjoy!

How to reheat pasta

Add your pasta to a microwave safe bowl, then sprinkle one tablespoon of water on top. Microwave for 45-90 seconds until warm, then toss in the water.

Adding water back to the noodles will thin out the congealed sauce and make it creamy again.

With this trick, your "next day noodles" will be just as good as the fresh ones!

A tablespread of cacio e pepe with shrimp


More easy Italian recipes

The Best Homemade Spaghetti Sauce (with hidden veggies!)

30 Minute Butternut Squash Carbonara

Healthy Homemade Shrimp Alfredo Pasta

Sheet Pan Chicken Cordon Bleu

Healthy Pepperoni Chicken Parmesan


I hope you love this recipe as much as I do! It's so easy to make and it's a healthier version of the traditional recipe, too.

Be sure to leave a star rating and review below if you try the recipe so other readers know how you liked it!

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Healthy Shrimp Cacio e Pepe

Made with just 5 ingredients in 15 minutes, this recipe for Healthy Cacio e Pepe with Shrimp will be your new favorite weeknight dinner. It's so easy to make, it's high in protein, and it's naturally gluten free and dairy free too!

Author:

Brooke Harmer

Prep:

5

min

cook:

15

min

total:

20

min

servings:

4

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Banza spaghetti pasta
  • 1 lb deveined raw medium shrimp, tail off*
  • 4 Tbsp Country Crock Olive Oil Butter
  • 1/4 C nutritional yeast
  • 1 C reserved pasta water
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve one cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta completely but do not rinse.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet to medium-high heat and spray with cooking spray. Add the shrimp in a single layer and season with salt and pepper. Cook 3-4 minutes until the shrimp is pink around the edges and almost completely white. Flip and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. In the same large pan, reduce to medium heat, respray with cooking spray, and add the butter. As the butter melts, add in lots of fresh cracked black pepper. Brown the butter for 3-4 minutes.
  4. By now, your pasta should be nearly finished or just finished. Once the noodles are cooked, toss immediately in the butter sauce and add half the pasta water, all the nutritional yeast, and the salt. Continue adding pasta water until the cacio e pepe is thin, creamy, and silky smooth. (Pro tip: air on the side of caution and add more pasta water than you think. Once the pasta cools, it will thicken up and if there's not enough water, you'll end up with a sticky, gooey mess.)
  5. Once the cacio e pepe is ready, gently fold in the cooked shrimp. Garnish with more fresh cracked black pepper and salt to taste. Enjoy!
  6. Leave a 5 star rating and review below if you loved this recipe!

Notes

*You can use any size of shrimp, and even tail on shrimp, but make sure your shrimp is raw, not frozen. If using frozen shrimp, thaw completely and pat dry before cooking.

Nutritional facts are a calculated estimate of one serving, which is 1/4 of the prepared pasta with 1/4 of the shrimp.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/4 skillet / Calories: 370 / Fat: 15.5g / Saturated fat: 5g / Carbohydrates: 41g / Fiber: 8g / Sugar: 1g / Protein: 34g