I first enjoyed a bowl of this simple pasta in Rome, and after my first bite, I fell in love with this simple yet tasty dish. I have enjoyed this dish many times since I first tasted it over thirty years ago. Still, I fell in love with it again recently, after enjoying it at one of our favorite Detroit restaurants, Shewolf, which serves traditional Roman cuisine. This pasta sauce includes just a few ingredients……guanciale, black pepper, and pecorino cheese. The diced pork is fried and then removed, leaving the oil in the pan. Once the pasta has cooked halfway, it is added to the pan with the oil and pasta water, and ground pepper. The combination of starchy pasta water and the oil leftover from the guanciale combine to make a thick sauce coating the pasta as it finishes cooking. Once cooked “al dente”, freshly grated cheese is blended into the sauce finishing it off to perfection. I used mezza maniche pasta in my dish, but any short pasta such as rigatoni works fine.
Guanciale is unsmoked Italian bacon prepared with pig’s jowl or cheeks. Its name is derived from guancia, the Italian word for cheek. Guanciale can be found in some Italian import or specialty shops outside of Italy, but unsmoked pancetta is the next best substitute if you are unable to find it. I buy my guanciale from Tempesta Artisan Salumi online. I buy both my guanciale and nduja from them and find the quality exceptional. Since this dish is so simple, use the best quality of Pecorino Romano cheese you can find and freshly grate it yourself at home. Freshly ground black pepper is also an integral ingredient to this dish.
Guanciale is rubbed with salt, ground black pepper and cured for three weeks. Its unique flavor is more potent than other pork products, such as pancetta, but its texture is more delicate, and in fact, when cooked much of it dissolves into the dish. Guanciale is traditionally used in dishes like pasta all’amatriciana, pasta alla gricia, and spaghetti alla carbonara. It is most commonly found in Central Italy, particularly Umbria and Lazio.
Deborah Mele Revised 2021
- 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 6 oz Guanciale, Diced (or Substitute With Unsmoked Pancetta)
- 3 Tablespoons Cracked Black Pepper
- 3/4 lb Rigatoni Pasta
- 1/3 Cup Pecorino Romano Cheese, Freshly Grated, Divided
- Place a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
- In a separate large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, and once hot add the diced guanciale.
- Cook until it has turned light brown.
- Remove the guanciale with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan.
- Add the pepper to the pan, stir and cook another minute or two.
- Remove the pan from the heat.
- Cook the pasta for half the recommended cooking time.
- Transfer 2 cups of the pasta water to the pan with the guanciale oil and pepper, leaving the rest of the pasta water sit.
- Over high heat, whisk together the pasta water and pepper oil, then add the pasta with a slotted spoon.
- Continue to cook the pasta, stirring constantly and adding an additional scoop of pasta water if needed until the pasta is cooked "al dente", and the "sauce" is thickend and reduced.
- Return the guanciale to the pan, stirring to mix.
- Remove the pan from the heat, then add 3/4 of the grated cheese, stirring rapidly to blend into the sauce. (You can add a few tablespoons of pasta water if sauce is too thick.)
- Serve piping hot, with a sprinkling of the remaining grated cheese on top.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 528Total Fat: 36gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 1659mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 3gSugar: 1gProtein: 12g