Guanciale, pecorino, pepper, pasta. These are the ingredients for one of Rome's cornerstone pastas, Pasta alla Gricia. If you haven't tried Pasta alla Gricia yet, get ready to fall in love! There may only be a few ingredients, but they come together to make pasta magic!
Pasta alla Gricia comes from the Lazio region of Italy where Rome is. Rome is known for it's four pastas, carbonara, amatriciana, cacio e Pepe and gricia. For some reason, gricia seems to be the least known of the four. Somebody get gricia a PR person, pronto!
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Traditionally, this pasta would be made with guanciale which is cured pork jowl. Since guanciale can be pretty hard to find, substituting cubed pancetta works just fine! If you happen to have access to some Italian guanciale, by all means, go for it!
If you're using pancetta, try to find some that has a good amount of fat on it. You'll need that fat to create the silky sauce! I included olive oil in the recipe but only to use as necessary. If you're using guanciale, you'll be able to render enough fat that you won't need the oil. If you're using pancetta, however, I find that it usually needs a little extra fat. You shouldn't need more than a tablespoon of olive oil to supplement the pancetta fat.
Cooking the pork over medium low heat for 15 minutes or so will ensure that you've rendered enough fat for the sauce but kept the pork tender and crisp. If you see the pork starting to crisp up too fast, lower the heat a bit. Once you've gotten all of that delicious fat from the pork, you'll transfer it to a bowl with a slotted spoon so that it doesn't get overcooked.
You want to start cooking the pasta when the pork is about halfway done, so make sure to have a big pot of water boiling. Usually I'd tell you to salt your pasta water heavily, but since the pork and cheese are already salty, go easy on the salt this time. Since you need that starchy pasta water to create the sauce, I like using a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the pasta straight from the water to the skillet. That way, you don't have to go through the trouble of draining the pasta and you're left with a pot of pasta water to use for the sauce.
Speaking of the sauce (it's really more of an emulsion than a sauce if I'm being technical) it really is magical! You are combining pork fat and pasta water to create a creamy, glossy sauce that coats the pasta perfectly. Then you add in the cheese, pepper and crispy pork and WHOA.
Pasta alla Gricia can be made with spaghetti, bucatini, or rigatoni but I like using rigatoni best. Pieces of the pork will get inside the rigatoni and make the perfect bite!
It's amazing how just a few ingredients can create such a rich and flavorful dish in no time. You'll have one of Rome's classic dishes on your plate in under 30 minutes!
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Pasta alla Gricia
- ¾ Pound rigatoni
- 1 4 Ounce Package pancetta or guanciale cubed
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil (if necessary)
- ½ Teaspoon freshly cracked pepper plus more for serving
- ½ Cup Pecorino Romano cheese grated, plus more for serving
- kosher salt
- In a large skillet over medium low heat, cook the pork (and olive oil if using), stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the pork is crispy but still tender; about 15 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the pork to a bowl and set aside. Add the pepper to the pan and stir.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta to 3 minutes less than package directions for al dente.
- With a spider or slotted spoon, transfer the pasta to the skillet along with 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Stir until the pork fat and starchy pasta water emulsify into a glossy sauce and the pasta has finished cooking; about 2 minutes. Add the cheese and stir until melted through. Add the pork back to the pan and give it a final stir.
- Serve right away with more pepper and pecorino.
- Get every pasta lover you know on the horn and tell them that Pasta alla Gricia deserves their attention!