Pasta alla Gricia, with its silky cheesy sauce and black peppery bite, tastes like Rome on a plate. So if you cannot get on plane, bring Rome to you with this pasta dish! Affiliated links have been used to link to items I am discussing. I received a copy of the fabulous Tasting Rome from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
I owe a big apology to Katie Parla and Kristina Gill, the authors of Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City. I received the cookbook from Blogging for Books last spring–much closer to the release date. Well, you guys know how my summer went, which should not have been a terrible problem, except the book was lost in the move. Now you understand, when I say lost, I do not mean lost and gone forever. But it is definitely unavailable for at least the next year, buried in a cookbook box somewhere. But! You guys will love my solution. I bought a new copy and am giving it away to a lucky reader! Keep reading below for details.
So all is well that ends well, right?
And before we go another moment, I just wanted to say, yes it is that time of year. Some dishes are just as great photographed the next day, but some really need to be served and photographed fresh, like this pasta, which means I just need to work with the light I have (in this case no light at all). Alas. So don’t hold it against the dish! Because the dish was amazing!
So about the book. You can imagine my excitement for this book, after our amazing time in Italy. And then when I discovered they had an entire section on Testaccio, where we both did our food tour and returned on our own at the end of the trip? Suffice to say I could never make a recipe from it and the book would hold a strong nostalgic appeal for me. But I know that doesn’t help you guys much, so let me also assure you, the recipes are awesome and definitely authentic from what we experienced.
This dish is a perfect example of the pasta we found in Italy, that bore no resemblance to the pasta options at what I call Italian American red checker tablecloth restaurants. First, it is not a red sauce. Second, it is not Alfredo. Right there I am intrigued. It is lighter than Alfredo, but not as light as the southern Italian pasta we encountered made with lemon. It is redolent of black pepper, from the guanciale (Italian cured pork jowl, similar to our bacon, but not the same and therefore not substitutable if you are aiming for the real deal). It is hearty with cheese, but not cheesy like a macaroni and cheese. Fresh out of the pan, it is silky and it sent me right back to our first night in Rome, when I swooned over a pasta I had never heard of (and no longer recall the name of)–but that also had the distinct and delicious guanciale.
The flavor of the guanciale dominates this dish, which means right from the first bite I was in heaven. I adored guanciale the first time I tried it that first night in Rome–I enjoyed it in pasta and on pizza, and would have loved to try it anyway that someone wanted to serve it to me. However, it does have a strong black pepper flavor, and for the kids I sometimes think they do better with a completely unfamiliar flavor than a flavor that is almost like something they know and love. In this case, American bacon and American macaroni and cheese. So the kids were a little lukewarm about this pasta, but not me or John. We served it with a large vegetable side, it is obviously not the healthiest dish in the world, but I would make it again in a heartbeat for a classic Italian dinner.
- 1 lb pasta of choice
- 1 t extra virgin olive oil
- 7 oz guanciale cut into 1 1/2 inch strips about 1/2 inch wide
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (as long as it is dry and you like to drink it it should be fine)
- 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water. Cook to al dente--this pasta will also cook in the sauce, so you do not want it too soft to start with. Reserve the cooking water.
Using a large, heavy skillet (I used stainless steel), heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the guanciale and cook, stirring to encourage it to brown evenly. This should take around 8 minutes.
Add the white wine and cook for another minute.
Add about a scant cup of the pasta cooking water to the pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring vigorously. Add the pasta along with another scant cup of pasta cooking water. Keep stirring vigorously. A thick sauce should form--add more water if necessary. The starch in the pasta water and fat from the bacon will make a kind of white sauce, if you are familiar with making white sauces before adding cheese when making macaroni and cheese.
Turn the heat off (remove from burner if using electric) and add 3/4 of the grated cheese. Mix the cheese completely into the sauce--it will melt and form a cheese sauce. Taste for salt (probably not necessary if you salt your pasta water the way I do) and freshly ground black pepper.
Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining grated Pecorino Romano. Like all pasta and cheese dishes, it is at its silkiest best fresh off the skillet.