One of Rome's most beloved dishes, gricia is nothing more than sizzled guanciale (peppered, fatty, cured pork jowl) and grated pecorino cheese, tossed through pasta—spaghetti, bucatini or rigatoni are the usual favorites—with some of the cooking water to result in an immensely satisfying, fast meal and packed with flavour. A few tips keep this deceptively simple dish an easy weeknight staple: You can substitute pancetta and parmesan for the guanciale and pecorino if you must, but in all cases, get the best ingredients you can. The pasta cooking water is essential, don't forget to save about a cup of it before draining the rest of the pasta. Toss the cheese OFF THE HEAT for that loose, creamy emulsion that you want.
With all the salty goodness from the two main ingredients, you don't need to add any salt to this, though an extra grating of pepper is always a good idea. —Emiko
(400 grams) pasta (rigatoni, spaghetti or bucatini are favourites)
(200 grams) guanciale slices, cut into strips
(100 grams) grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for serving
Put a large pot of water on to boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and add the pasta to cook.
Heat olive oil in a skillet or wide pan large enough to eventually hold all the pasta. Add the guanciale and over low-medium heat, gently cook until the fat becomes transparent and the meat rosy pink but not crisp and browned. Remove from heat until pasta is ready.
When pasta is about 1-2 minutes from being done (check the recommended cooking time on the packet and deduct 2 minutes; check by biting into one), remove about 1 cup (250 ml) of the pasta cooking water with a ladel and set aside. Drain the rest of the pasta and add to the pan with the pancetta.
Over medium heat, add about three-quarters of the past cooking water and agitate the pan or stir with a wooden spoon until the liquid becomes creamier—the fat and the water should make an emulsion as they are agitated together.
Remove from the heat and add the grated cheese. Stir the mixture or agitate the pan until the cheese has melted and your pasta has a thick, glossy dressing just clinging to it. Serve immediately with extra cheese and a generous grating of black pepper, if desired.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.