Pasta alla gricia is one of Rome’s most quintessential pasta dishes. Combining guanciale (cured pork cheek), pecorino romano cheese, black pepper and a swish of pasta water into a silky sauce, pasta alla gricia packs a rich, porky punch despite its deceptively simple ingredients list.
Guanciale is the heart and soul of this dish. Across Rome, salumerie counters are piled high with thick slabs of this fat-marbled marvel, which is made from salt-cured pig cheek. Fattier than its famous cousin, pancetta, guanciale releases this deeply flavoured fat when fried – enriching pasta alla gricia with its seriously savoury flavour.
Although it’s less well known than the three other classic Roman pastas: carbonara, amatriciana and cacio e pepe, pasta alla gricia has actually been around for a lot longer. Indeed, pasta alla gricia is commonly thought of as the foundation on which these dishes were built (add egg and you have a carbonara, add tomatoes and you have amatriciana).
As a dish that relies on very few ingredients, using the best quality you can lay your hands on is important – for Romans, it’s not pasta alla gricia unless you use guanciale and pecorino romano. When it comes to picking the right pasta shape, we’d lean towards the sauce-catching ridges of rigatoni, but spaghetti is also a traditional pairing in Rome’s trattorie.
Our pasta alla gricia recipe
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Calories per serving: 734kcal
- 400g rigatoni (spaghetti, bucatini or penne would also work well)
- 250g guanciale, cut into thin batons
- 120g pecorino romano, grated
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Chef’s tip: If you’re struggling to find guanciale, replace it with the same amount of good quality, unsmoked pancetta – we promise not to tell any Romans.
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil, salt generously, add the pasta, stir, then cook until al dente (typically 2 minutes less than the packet instructions).
- While the pasta cooks, add the oil and guanciale to a large frying pan and put on a medium heat.
- Fry gently, until the fat has rendered and the guanciale pieces are starting to turn golden.
- Add a ladle of your pasta water to the pan of guanciale, turn the heat down and let it bubble away until the pasta is ready.
- Once the pasta is ready, drain, reserving some of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the frying pan along with two-thirds of the cheese and toss well.
- Continue adding splashes of the reserved pasta water and tossing everything together until you have a glossy sauce.
- Remove from the heat, top with the remaining cheese and a healthy grind of black pepper, then serve immediately. Buon appetito!
Pasta alla gricia wine pairing recommendation
Pasta alla gricia has very few ingredients, but the presence of rich guanciale and tangy pecorino means that it’s certainly not short on flavour. Although the dish is light in colour, when chosen right, red or white can both work just as well. For white, look towards the hills of Abruzzo, and fresh and zippy Trebbiano. This white is crisp enough to cut through the richness of the pork and its acidity pairs well with aged cheeses – making it a great match for the pecorino in this dish. For red, we’d again look to Abruzzo, and the rich mouthfeel and dark fruit flavours of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. This medium-bodied red has enough acidity to counter the cheesy sauce, as well as plenty of smoky background notes that will hold their own against the deeply savoury guanciale.