Rome's greatest little-known pasta dish is porky-peppery goodness and only 5 ingredients
Rome has four iconic -- and outrageously good -- pasta dishes that use some combination of pork, cheese, pepper, eggs and tomatoes: cacio e pepe, amatriciana, carbonara and gricia. This last one is probably the least well-known in the United States, but its porky-peppery flavors deserve big recognition.
In Italy, porky guanciale is at the forefront of the dish, followed by the heat of black pepper and the tang of pecorino Romano. It all forms a rich yet delicately creamy sauce to coat rigatoni.
To bring this dish into American home kitchens, we had to finesse the ingredient list and the cooking technique. To start, we swapped out the guanciale for easier-to-find pancetta. (But if you can find guanciale, use it! We've included instructions for subbing it for the pancetta.)
As for the technique, we quickly learned that it was more art than science: As the al dente pasta cooks through, it absorbs some of the pasta water and releases starch to help emulsify the water and fat into a creamy sauce. How much pasta water to add depends on knowing how much more cooking the pasta needs and how much water it will absorb. And if there isn't enough pasta water to maintain the emulsion, the sauce will be broken and greasy. We wanted to remove any guesswork so home cooks of all experience levels could make this dish perfectly every time.
The solution was boiling measured amounts of rendered pork fat and pasta water to a specific volume: 1 1/2 cups. This way, we always used the same amount of liquid to coat the pasta, which gave us consistent results and an emulsified sauce. Boiling the liquid also helped break up the fat droplets to create a thick, cohesive sauce before we mixed in the pasta.
From start to finish, the recipe only takes about 30 minutes. And it only takes one bite to understand why it's one of Rome's iconic pastas.
Pasta alla Gricia (Rigatoni with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano)
8 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil