If you love Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe and/or Pasta Carbonara, stand back! The best is yet to come. Spaghetti alla Gricia is a delicious variation of the two, and just as easy.
While my mom often made a dish something like this with peas (bacon, onion, olive oil), it wasn’t until I was watching Mario Batali on The Food Network many years ago, that I learned that this was an actual dish, minus the peas. As a matter of fact, you can find my mom’s take on this (with the peas) in the archives, under Pasta Asciutta.
I recently ordered Spaghtti alla Gricia at a restaurant in Sarasota, Florida, and I recalled that very episode on the Food Network. Of course I didn’t have my recipes with me in Florida (although sometimes I do pack a few to bring with me just in case) , but thanks to technology, I was able to go online and find this episode with Mario Batali. I couldn’t wait to give it a try. As you’ll see from the pictures, I even bought his brand of pasta, as a tribute.
The key to this very simple recipe is to use the very highest quality ingredients you can find. Also, if you can find guanciale (cured pig’s jowl) in your market, this adds flavor, but certainly pancetta or bacon will do just fine, just make sure they are thick cut. I used pancetta, about a half inch thick. The other minor change that I’ve made is to add a bit of the pasta water while mixing the spaghetti, to moisten the sauce just a little. You can omit this if you like it just as is.
RECIPE: serves 4
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 extra TBSP
1/4 tsp. crushed hot pepper flakes or to taste (may omit completely)
1/2 pound guanciale, pancetta or bacon, thick cut, and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for serving
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound spaghetti
- In a 12 to 14 inch sauce pan, heat 2 TBSP olive oil over high heat. Add the chile pepper, if using, and pancetta and render the fat from the pork. Cook on medium heat until the meaty parts are browned and the fatty parts are cooked, but still transparent.
- Remove the pancetta and put on a paper towel to drain.
- Add the remaining oil, onion and garlic and cook gently until golden brown.
- Return the pancetta to the pan and keep warm.
- Meanwhile bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain the pasta, saving a little bit of pasta water should you need it to moisten the dish, and add the spaghetti to the saucepan with the pancetta.
- Add the pecorino Romano cheese, toss over medium high heat for 1 minute, adding a little bit of pasta water if necessary, mixing well and creating a somewhat creamy sauce.
- Serve and pass more cheese and some freshly ground pepper.