[Video: The Serious Eats Team. Photograph: Vicky Wasik]
When it comes to the four main pasta dishes of Roman cuisine (carbonara, amatriciana, gricia, and cacio e pepe), pasta alla gricia is criminally overlooked and underappreciated. It’s time to put an end to all that. It’s time to celebrate the minimalist perfection of rigatoni dressed in a silky emulsion of rich guanciale fat and starchy pasta water. It’s time to make gricia a household name.
Why It Works
- Slowly rendering guanciale yields crisp morsels of pork and plenty of flavorful fat to build an emulsified sauce.
- Cooking the pasta halfway in a small amount of water produces super-starchy pasta water that is ideal for emulsifying the sauce.
- Cooking the rigatoni the rest of the way in the skillet strengthens the emulsion, and the sauce glazes the pasta as it reduces.
- 8 ounces (225g) guanciale (cured pork jowl), in one piece
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 12 ounces (340g) rigatoni
- 2 ounces (60g) finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
Freeze guanciale for at least 15 minutes, and up to 45 minutes (partially freezing the guanciale makes it easier to slice). Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut into 1/4-inch-thick planks, then cut planks into 1/4-inch-thick batons (lardons).
In a large 12-inch stainless steel skillet, heat oil over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add guanciale and cook, stirring occasionally, until fat has rendered and guanciale is golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer guanciale to a plate; set aside. Reduce heat to low, and bloom about 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in rendered guanciale fat until pepper foams and is aromatic, about 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat.
Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven or medium pot, bring 3 quarts of water and 2 teaspoons kosher salt to a boil over high heat. Set a colander inside a large heatproof bowl in the sink. Add rigatoni to water and cook, stirring frequently during the first minute to prevent pasta from sticking.
Once pasta has cooked for 4 minutes 30 seconds, transfer 2 cups (475ml) of starchy pasta water to skillet. Return skillet to high heat and bring to a boil, swirling to emulsify pasta water with guanciale fat.
When pasta has cooked for a total of 5 minutes, drain in prepared colander, then transfer pasta to skillet (the pasta will be very undercooked at this point, but it will continue cooking in the skillet); reserve drained pasta water.
Cook rigatoni, swirling skillet constantly and gently stirring with a spoon or rubber spatula, to ensure even cooking and that the sauce remains emulsified, until pasta is al dente and sauce is thickened and reduced, 6 to 8 minutes; if sauce reduces too much before pasta has finished cooking, add more reserved pasta water to skillet in 1/4-cup increments. Add guanciale to skillet and carefully toss to combine.
Remove from heat, add half of the grated Pecorino Romano, and toss or stir rapidly to combine. Once cheese is fully emulsified in the sauce, add remaining Pecorino Romano, and toss or stir rapidly once more to combine. Adjust sauce consistency as needed with more pasta water. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Serve right away, passing more cheese at the table.
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