Pasta alla Gricia

Up until recent times, January has never been the month of diets and cleanses, at least not in Italy. There were no concerns about being fit or losing weight. Rather, the biggest concern was to keep the family fed, and warm.

In Italy, January used to be the month in which people consumed the largest quantities of pork-based product. Rearing pigs was a common practice among farming families. This is because pigs were the most convenient animals to keep: they would eat anything and, likewise, they could be eaten nose to tail. They basically made a good investment.

Pigs were traditionally butchered in winter, usually from December to mid-February, as the butchering operations needed to be carried on at low temperature. In addition, the freshly cured meats would benefit from the cold for both drying and preserving. Mind, not all cuts were turned into cured meats. Some were eaten straight away – braised, fried, roasted etc. However, curing (and therefore preserving) most of the animal meat meant having enough to eat for the rest of the year.

Among the many excellent types of cured meat belonging to the Italian tradition,  guanciale is one of my favourites. Typical of Central Italy, guanciale is made from the cheek of the pig, a cut that is mainly made of fat, with only one or two thin stripes of lean muscle. The composition of the fat is different from the fat found elsewhere. It’s tougher and it has a more intense flavour. The generous salting and spicing all contribute to the unique taste of this product, as well as the wood-fire smoking.

Perhaps the most famous guanciale comes from the town of Amatrice, located on the border between Lazio and Abruzzo. Amatriciana is a pasta dish that was concocted in the area around the end of the 18th century and featuring tomatoes, guanciale, and pecorino. It was the dish of the transhumant shepherds moving from Amatrice towards Rome to sell their products.

The origin of the dish, however, dates further back in time, before the discovery of the Amaricas, with the sole difference that it didn’t have any tomatoes in it – only guanciale, pecorino, and black pepper. The name of this humble pasta dish was (and still is) gricia, from Griciano, another village not far from Amatrice.

Gricia is a dish that is telling of the lives people run in the area in which it originated. Shepherding needed energetic meals, while the nomadic lifestyle required foods that didn’t spoil too quickly. But the true fame of gricia came when it started to be cooked and consumed around Rome.

Making gricia at home isn’t difficult. All you need is the right set of ingredients and some practice, so as to master the art of melting the cheese in the pasta water to form the most perfect of sauces.


Pasta alla Gricia

serves 4
400g spaghetti or bucatini
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
200g piece of guanciale
200g pecorino romano, grated
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 


Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.

In the meantime, heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium heat. Cut the guanciale into thin strips and add them to the hot oil. Fry them until crisp and translucent, then remove from the heat and set aside. Place the pecorino in a glass bowl and keep handy.

When the water is boiling, lower the spaghetti. Cook them until very al dente (two-three minutes before the suggested cooking time). Drain them with a large fork or tongues and add them to the skillet with the guanciale, together with a spoonful of hot cooking water.

Set the skillet back over a medium heat. Saute the pasta for a couple of minutes, adding cooking water to finish cooking it in the sauce. Next, transfer it to the bowl with the pecorino alongside a couple more spoonfuls of cooking water and toss everything quickly to form a smooth cheese sauce coating the pasta evenly.

Finish the dish with a generous dose of black pepper, then serve right away.

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26 Comments

  1. barbaraT @ pane-burro January 10, 2013

    Adoro il tuo blog che non conoscevo!
    e ho anche lo stesso identico piatto della foto..
    fatto, piazzato tra i preferiti.
    a presto,
    barbara

    Reply
    • Valeria January 10, 2013

      Grazie mille Barbara! Ma pensa, quel piatto l'ho preso in un negozietto qui a Londra! 🙂

      Reply
  2. rossella January 10, 2013

    che cibo speciale, questo qui… 🙂

    Reply
    • Valeria January 10, 2013

      nessuno lo sa meglio di te! <3

      Reply
  3. Ritroviamoci in Cucina January 10, 2013

    Io la gricia non l'ho mai mangiata e ogni volta che ne sento parlare drizzo le orecchie… vedere le tue foto mi ha dato il colpo di grazia!
    PS Sei bravissima e il blog meraviglioso.

    Reply
    • Valeria January 10, 2013

      DEVI PROVARLA! :)) è una delizia! grazie, un abbraccio

      Reply
  4. Chiara Setti January 10, 2013

    W O W !! Che foto…e che piatto!!!

    Reply
  5. realsimplefood January 10, 2013

    What stunning pictures and what interesting (new to me) information on my long-time favourite pasta dish (Amatriciana) and my newly discovered pasta dish of Pasta alla Gricia (which I had never heard of until I moved to Rome for work a few months ago). I did not know these two dishes were so closely related but that would explain why I love both of them that much. How sad also to think of Italian food without tomatoes – almost unthinkable these days and just today I was reflecting on the perfect trifecta of beautiful pizza crust topped with sweet pomodori and fresh Buffalo mozzarella! I look forward to reading more posts from the Italian Table Talk!

    Reply
    • Valeria January 10, 2013

      if you think about carbonara, it is basically a gricia + eggs! I like to think of gricia as the basic recipe which gave origin to the other two (carbonara and amatriciana), and yet all three are so genius in their own way! it is hard for me to think of Italy without tomato, too, but researching for this post I actually had to stop and reflect on this big truth: no tomato up until just a few centuries ago –so much for the pasta al pomodoro and pizza margherita! Let say these are also important chapters in the history of Italian food, only they are more recent! 🙂

      Reply
  6. la domestique January 10, 2013

    I could live off pasta alone, and simple dishes like this are my favorite! Beautiful post, Valeria!

    Reply
    • Valeria January 10, 2013

      thank you so much, couldn't agree more, pasta with cheese is the ultimate comfort food!

      Reply
  7. Allie January 10, 2013

    yum my mouth is watering!!!

    Reply
  8. Giulia - Parole di Zucchero January 11, 2013

    Informazioni preziose Valeria, alcune di queste storie non le conoscevo neanche io. Foto meravigliose… ma penso tu lo sappia gia' 🙂
    ciao
    Giulia

    Reply
    • Valeria January 11, 2013

      Carinissima, Giulia! Mi fa piacere che Italian Table Talk sia utile anche a noi Italiani, così tante cose ci sono da scoprire (anche per la sottoscritta, che per scrivere i post ricerca e impara! :D). un abbraccio

      Reply
  9. Emiko January 11, 2013

    My mouth is watering just looking at this post, Val. I love how essential and simple traditional dishes like this are – and you're right, there's no substitute for a good piece of guanciale!

    Reply
    • Valeria January 11, 2013

      Absolutely! Just browsing for some photo inspiration I have seen this recipe made with pancetta, with bacon (by Mark Bittman!!!), topped with sage, using onion in the sauce…Why do we have to complicate something so simple and yet so perfect? Less is more, once again! 🙂

      Reply
  10. Reb January 11, 2013

    Val'etta, oramai non te lo scrivo nemmeno più che qui ci vengo col sorriso un po' così, e so che come per magia il sorriso mi si distende e fo pace col mondo dentro e fuori.
    ps: oggi, sei stata la primissima persona alla quale avrei voluto raccontare una robina. Poi, per una sorta di scaramantica riservatezza, ho preferito differire. Ma il pensiero m'ha stupita. Ed ho fatto un sorriso ancora più grande.

    Reply
    • Valeria January 11, 2013

      ohibò 😀 adesso sono scuriosissimissima. ma farò la brava. mi basta e avanza un grande sorriso –sennò, cosa ci stiamo a fare noi qui? <3

      Reply
  11. Kittys Kitchen January 14, 2013

    son ouna grande estimatrice, di questo piatto che appartiene alla storia della mia regione e non posso non amarlo e amare tutto il post!
    Questo salame "buristo" è una riverazione invece… Devo provarlo!

    Reply
  12. Hot food tables January 14, 2013

    Wow! Looks yummy!

    Reply
  13. Juls @ JulsKitchen January 14, 2013

    sto salivando alle 10 di sera di fronte alla gricia… il guanciale è veramente inimitabile. E la gricia è forse la mia preferita delle paste del genere, semplice, ma si fa mangiare in enormi quantità. Quante cose che scopriamo ogni mese, eh?! 🙂

    Reply
  14. thelittleloaf January 28, 2013

    I've never gone in for dieting in January – surely it's the month when you need the most comfort in the form of delicious food?! The photos in this post are beautiful and remind me of my Dad's simple carbonara which he'd always make when we were on holiday at our house in Italy. Stripped back, simple and delicious.

    Reply
  15. Amy January 28, 2013

    Oh goodness! Those are some gorgeous and mouth-watering slices of meat! Hey, I think I should move to Italy! Or simply just follow the Italian's diet. Sounds like music to my ears. Yes, I need some fat and meat in my body to keep warm (despite the amount I already got in my own body)! 🙂

    Reply
  16. Francesca P. February 26, 2013

    I grandi piatti classici non li batte nessuno… 🙂

    Reply

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