#VirtualSagra’s recent spotlight on the eternal Spaghetti all’Amatriciana got me thinking about the holy trinity of Roman dishes: Amatrice’s famous contribution of course, alongside Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe. All quintessentially Roman with their balance of simplicity and flavor, classic recipes that naturally attract a certain amount of fervor and devotion. (And don’t even get me started about the additions!)
On my last visit to Rome, however, I tried another typical Roman pasta for the first time: Rigatoni alla Gricia. A dish that some — quite sensibly, in fact — refer to as the foundation for both Carbonara and Amatriciana. Others call it Amatriciana in Bianca. Me, I see it more as a cross between Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe. Either way, it simple and comforting yet rich, intense flavor fits the mold quite well.
Gricia is, essentially, Cacio e Pepe with guanciale. Carbonara without egg. Or Amatriciana without tomato. (I’ve fallen into the same trap!) In actuality, the latter is probably the most accurate, since many believe it was the precursor to the red sauce, before tomatoes were abundant available in the region. The name is also thought to come from Grisciano, a town just north of Amatrice.
Gricia involves only a few ingredients. Pork (preferably guanciale, though pancetta is a reasonable substitute), Pecorino cheese, black pepper and pasta. That’s all. So simple, yet so luscious. As the Romans do best.
Another famously Roman aspect of this dish is controversy over its ingredients. Onions? White Wine? Italians take these seemingly minor ingredient suggestions as sacrosanct. Last year, when celebrity chef Carlo Cracco suggested adding onions to the dish on MasterChef Italia, it became headline material across the country. (It didn’t help that he’d, horrifyingly, suggested adding garlic to Amatriciana just days before.)
If we put those blasphemous additions aside for the moment, the technique is quite simple:
- Cook pasta
- Brown the guanciale over medium heat. (If you like you can add some EVOO or lard to get the process going, though it isn’t entirely necessary.)
- Add black pepper to pan.
- Add a ladel of pasta water to the pork.
- Mix in some grated hard Pecorino (I prefer an aged version other than Romano, which can be too salty.)
- Add pasta and cheese and mix. Use more pasta water if it sticks.
- Serve with more cheese on top.
As with our findings related to pairing wine with Carbonara, looks can be deceiving here. Just because it’s light in color doesn’t mean it’ll match to white wine. The fatty pork and the aged cheese suggest — nay, demand — a hearty red. Any quality Central Italian should do the trick; in our case, an IGT rosso from Montefalco matched quite well.