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Wednesday
Feb082017

Pasta alla Gricia

 

There are a handful of classic Roman pasta dishes that you will find in almost every good trattoria in Rome: Cacio e Pepe, Bucatini all' Amatriciana and Pasta alla Gricia. These dishes are what I like the best - simple to make and with just a few ingredients that you already have in your pantry and can make at the last minute. No fancy recipes here - these recipes are all about technique.  This delicious pasta has just four ingredients, but it's essential to prepare it properly. 

In Rome, this dish will be made with guanciale, an Italian bacon that is made from the pig's jowl, or cheek.  It's an ingredient that most of us will not be able to find, so substituting pancetta, which is Italian bacon made from the pig's belly, is fine.  They are very similiar and some people will say they can't tell much of a difference. 

The other major ingredient is Pecorino Romano, which is a sheep's milk cheese.  It's a hard cheese, with a bold salty taste and easy to grate.  If you have a Whole Foods near you or a good cheese shop, you should be able to buy it.  Pecorino and pancetta together make an amazing taste combination. 

 

 This dish requires that you do not overcook the pasta.  In Rome, this dish will be very al dente - to many people, pasta in Rome is firmer than any pasta they've ever had.  You should learn to cook it this way, also.  Err on the side of cooking it less, not more.  For the kind of pasta to use for this dish, use whatever you like, long or short. I used mezzi rigatoni, which is a short rigatoni and one of my very favorite pastas.

The secret to this dish - like so many pasta dishes - is the pasta water.  You cannot make this properly if you drain the pasta and simply toss it with the cheese.  The hot pasta water is added to the fat from frying the pancetta and creates a sauce.  When the cheese is added, you whisk vigorously to make a creamy sauce and add more hot pasta water if you need it.  This dish is not saucy, but somewhat dry.  The pasta water simply enables you to make a sauce from the cheese that will cling to the pasta.  Don't worry if you don't get it perfectly the first time!  Make this dish once a week until you get it right - it's one of the best things you will ever eat. 

 

Pasta alla Gricia

for a printable recipe, click here

serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish

Because of the saltiness of the meat and the cheese, it is not recommended to salt the water for the pasta.  

5 ounces guanciale or pancetta, cubed 
1½ teaspoons coarsely ground pepper, divided
6 ounces pasta (I used mezzi rigatoni)
¾ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided, about 2½ ounces (and more for passing)

Start a large pot of water on the stove to boil.   At the same time, fry the diced meat in a large fry pan over medium heat until the edges are a bit crispy.  Remove meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Do not wipe out pan.  

After the water has come to a boil, cook the pasta until about halfway done - you want the pasta to still be firm (the pasta will continue to cook later in the recipe).  If you are using spaghetti, for instance, this will only take a couple of minutes.  Add about ¾ cup of the pasta water and the ground pepper to the skillet with the fat from the meat and cook over medium high heat, whisking, to thicken, for about a minute.  Remove pasta with a spider, tongs or some other kind of strainer and place in the skillet.  Vigorously stir the pasta with the sauce and add more pasta water if it's too dry.  Add ½ cup of the cheese and stir, over the medium heat.  The cheese will melt into the sauce - add more hot pasta water if you have to. Keep cooking and stirring until the sauce is creamy and the pasta is cooked, but still al dente. Add the guanciale or pancetta and stir to blend.  

Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with more cheese (and more pepper if you like) and serve.  The pasta should be well coated with cheese and pepper, but there shouldn't be a liquid sauce to this dish - if there is, you used too much pasta water.  

 

 

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Reader Comments (17)

I love this dish and actually had it in Rome! Would love to make it at home. Thank you.

February 8, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermisskay

My mouth is watering. Yes, it is a simple recipe but as you say, it's all in the great ingredients and technique!. We've made this dish many times and I never get tired of it!! Great advice. Have a great week and Happy Valentine's Day.

While I love this recipe and it points out the proper technique for cooking pasta the right way, it would be a huge mistake not to salt the pasta water. There is no amount of salt, either in the ingredients or even extra salt applied after combining the pasta with the sauce that can overcome the mistake of not salting the pasta water. In fact, to truly cook pasta like a Roman, the pasta water should be salted enough to make it taste like it's from the sea. The combination of the starch from the pasta and the salt is what makes the pasta water such a treasured component of the sauce. It is like gold and the secret to cooking pasta correctly. But, it must be salted or it loses its power and the dish tastes lifeless.

February 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBill

I am making this! My husband will love it. Thank you for posting.

February 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRuth

Had this for the first time in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome and immediately fell in love with this dish. I only make it though with guanciale as that is what gives it its' unique flavor. Yes, it's difficult to find locally, but I just order it through Amazon. I break it down into 4-6 oz. portions and freeze the individual packets. Use it also for pasta l'amatriciana.

February 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

From The Italian Dish:

Bill: We always heavily salt the pasta water in most recipes, and you are correct when you say it should "taste like the sea" but I would caution people to do that in this particular recipe. It's quite a salty dish from the meat and cheese. If you do salt the pasta water, I would go easy on the salt the first time you make it.

February 9, 2017 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

From The Italian Dish:\

Suzanne: Thanks for the tip about the guanciale! Great idea.

February 9, 2017 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

On each trip to Italy I invariably fall in love with a new pasta recipe. Last time it was cacio e pepe and the time before that bucatini all'amatriciana. Pasta alla gricia may be my next love.

Always amazing how the fewest ingredients are able to meld together and produce the best food.
Thanks for the recipe.

February 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLisa DeNunzio

My dish did not turn out well at all. The pasta water/fat mixture was brown, and the cheese was clumpy, and did not dissolve well. It also had a very greasy mouth feel. I think I will stick with carbonara, unless there are some tips.

February 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterScott

From The Italian Dish:

Scott: I don't know why the pasta water/fat mixture was brown. I've never encountered that. As for the cheese being clumpy, make sure you stir vigorously to blend the pasta with the cheese, take if off the heat and add more cheese. Also use real pecorino - this won't work with a cheese substitute. The greasy mouth feel - well, that's the deliciousness of the fat of the pancetta or guanciale. That may be too rich a taste for some people. Next time you make it, try draining the fat after you fry the meat - it may be a better taste for you. Hope this helps.

February 13, 2017 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

guzel paylasim

February 21, 2017 | Unregistered Commentersohbet

Just made this for dinner and it was delicious! Came out perfectly and my family gobbled up the whole thing! Thank you for posting this Classic Roman dish!

March 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPatti Zapp

Made this and loved it. It is so rich, it is hard to believe it doesn't contain cream. I followed your advice and did not salt the pasta water. The dish was perfectly seasoned! Thanks for another great recipe!

March 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKit

I was in Rome for a little while a long time ago. I had this dish at a little hotel called Pensione Ricci that we were staying at. I had just about forgotten about it but you re awoke the memories.
I made it yesterday and it was great!

Thank You!

April 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJack kelly

I loved this pasta-it was quick and easy! We used pancetta and I added a little pinch of red pepper flakes for spice. It was so good. I'm definitely going to make this again. Thanks. I love all the recipes I've tried on your site. (I found it through Pinterest and the Easter bread recipe)

April 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I love everything about this pasta! Can you use a Pecorino Tuscana? Maybe not as salty, but still wonderful.

April 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica Kelly

From The Italian Dish:

Veronica: Hey, swap out any cheese you like! You can certainly make this dish your own way.

April 18, 2017 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

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