Skip to Content

Spaghetti alla Gricia Recipe

Spaghetti alla Gricia, the most ancient and simplest of the four great pasta dishes of Rome, may be the most satisfying. Read on to find out how to make this Roman classic at home.

Spaghetti alla Gricia on White Plate with Fork

While it’s the least globally famous of Rome’s ‘fantastic four’, Pasta alla Gricia may be the best Roman pasta classic. It’s certainly the most accessible.

It’s the one that ‘fits the bill’ if you’re looking for an everyday pasta that’s both complete as a meal and easy to make. It’s also a dish that epitomizes the Roman style of pasta cookery.

Pasta alla Gricia at Testaccio Market Rome
We ate this Maccheroncini alla Gricia at the Mercato di Testaccio in Rome. We consider it to be our gateway to the iconic pasta.

Ironically, Pasta alla Griccia was new to us when we ate a tasty bowl at the Mercato di Testaccio in Rome. At the time, it was just a pasta that we had read about but didn’t quite recognize. Now it’s a top contender for our favorite Roman pasta.

Pasta alla Gricia is all about fatty pure pork flavors and the way those flavors meld with pasta. In this dish, the pork fat in guanciale melds with starchy pasta water to create a basic white sauce that’s the star of the pasta show. Sure, Pecorino Romano and black pepper share the playbill but, unlike in Cacio e Pepe, these ingredients merely act as necessary supporting actors.

The History of Pasta alla Gricia

Spaghetti alla Gricia on a Placemat
Pasta alla Gricia has a long history and may be the oldest pasta in Rome.

If we could travel back in a time machine a few hundred years, we’d like to think that alla Gricia would be the pasta that most Romans would be eating upon our arrival. In the real world, we have to settle for the pasta’s documented history which is sketchy at best.

Some stories link the dish to the mountain origins of Pasta Amatriciana and a small town called Griscian while others reference a Swiss canton. The recipe has even been linked to German bakers in Rome. In other words, nobody knows for sure.

Pasta alla Gricia with fork
Pasta alla Gricia combines pasta, pork fat, starch and grated Pecorino Romano to create a unique dish.

What we do know is that stretching ingredients in dishes like Alla Gricia has sustained people throughout human history. In all likelihood, ancient Roman cooks didn’t understand starch and fat emulsions scientifically. Either way, they probably appreciated the dish’s simple, affordable way of taking a little bit of cured pork and creating something satisfying and magical.

Luckily, we don’t need to know its definitive origins to create this delicious pasta dish. Our job is to honor the spirit of the cuisine while replicating the nature of the flavors and textures that make the dish a classic.

Spaghetti alla Gricia Ingredients

Ingredients for Spaghetti alla Gricia
Spaghetti alla Gricia can be made with three basic ingredients. Pepper, not pictured, is also added at the end. Water is also not pictured.

The Pasta alla Gricia ingredient list is ridiculously short with just a handful of items: guanciale, pasta, Perorino Romano, ground black pepper and water. Accordingly, you should use the best available ingredients.

The dish starts with Guanciale – fatty pork jowl. While you can substitute pancetta or even bacon for this product, the flavor and fat content won’t quite be the same. If you live in the USA, we encourage you to find guanciale either at a specialty retailer or via mail order. You can alternatively order guanciale from Italy but the shipping costs will likely be substantially higher.

We recommend splurging on quality pasta. Look for pasta produced through brass dyes since that process leaves a rough grippy edge on the pasta that allows the sauce to stick better. We like to use spaghetti; therefore, our dish is Spaghetti alla Gricia.

Spaghetti in a pot
We use top quality spaghetti produced with brass dyes to make our Spaghetti alla Gricia at home.

Using Pecorino Romano cheese is a must. We encourage you to grate the cheese on the smallest setting on a box grater. You’ll want to place it aside and have it at the ready for when you complete your sauce.

Lately we’ve been using a large peppermill and it really makes a difference. Every crank of the mill yields a substantial grind of pepper. We never thought of splurging on a large peppermill but, after using one at home, we’ve found that it’s worth the extra money.

Click here to buy a quality pepper mill if you don’t already have one in your kitchen.

How to Make Spaghetti alla Gricia

Guanciale in a frying pan
Rendering guanciale produces plenty of pork fat in the pan.

Pork fat is one of the true wonders of cuisine. It melts like a dream and flavors dishes like no other ingredient.

Our Gricia recipe begins like many others but, instead of removing our Guanciale from the pan, we choose to lower the heat after the fat begins to render, allowing the pork to slowly caramelize. To us, the resulting pork fat is a beautiful thing.

Finished Spaghetti alla Gricia in a pan
The combination of spaghetti, guanciale and pasta water is magical.

You don’t want the guanciale to burn like crisp bacon. Once the pork has browned sufficiently, remove it from the low heat of the stove. You’ll want the pan to be well heated once the pasta water and pasta ar added to the pan. The pasta will loosen a fair amount of flavorful fond formed from the browning pork fat.

Our recipe calls for a large amount of pasta water, about 1 1/2 cups. This may seem like a lot, but if you boil your pasta in a minimal amount of water (about 5 cups for one 1/2 pound of pasta), the water should thicken to a viscous slurry.

We also call for a small amount of grated Pecorino Romano – about 1/4 cup. You can grate additional cheese on top of the pasta for service. Finally, we recommend grinding the pepper on the pasta as a last step so that it’s at its freshest and most aromatic.

Click here to order a box grater from Amazon if you don’t already have one.

Spaghetti alla Gricia Instructions – Step by Step

Begin by freezing the guanciale (or pancetta or bacon) for about 30-45 minutes. This step prevents the fat from melting in your hands and enables you to slice the meat thinly and evenly.

Cutting Pecorino Romano with Knife
Don’t forget to cut the rind off of the guanciale. It’s both chewy and inedible.

Cut the rind off the guanciale. (Do the same if there’s a hard rind on the pancetta.) We like to slice our guanciale about a 1/4″ thick.

Slicing Guanciale with Knife
Slicing the guanciale reveals the pork product’s ribbon-like texture.

Lay the guanciale flat in a cool 12″ frying pan. Turn the heat to medium high. Cook the guanciale until it just browns on the edges and the fat begins to render. Turn the heat to the lowest setting.

Keep an eye on the pan and remove the pan from the heat if you feel that the meat is close to burning.

Guanciale in Pan
Turn the heat down once the guanciale starts brown on the edges and render.

To begin the pasta, boil about 5 cups of water in a saucepan large enough to fit the pasta.

Important Note
While many recipes call for boiling the pasta in a large amount of water, we use less water for two reasons. First, a smaller amount of water takes less time to recover to a full boil once the pasta is added. Second, the density of starch is greater with less water, which creates a sort of loose slurry that thickens the sauce.

Dropping Pasta in Saucepan
We use a saucepan with a long handle to boil our pasta, bending the spaghetti so that the strands are fully submerged in a small amount of pasta water. You could use a wide sauté pan if you have one in your kitchen.

When using a long strand pasta like linguine or spaghetti, it may be easiest to use a 12″ sauté pan to boil the pasta. If, like us, you use a large sauce pan, you’ll still need to bend the long stranded pasta to submerge it all in a small diameter pan in a small amount of boiling water.

Either way, we prefer pans with long handles (like our All-Clad pictured here) since they make it easier to use tongs to remove the pasta from the pasta cooking water

Pasta Water in a Ladle for Spaghetti alla Gricia
Starchy pasta water is the key to a creamy sauce in Pasta alla Gricia

About 3 minutes before removing the pasta from the pan, turn the heat on the pan with the guanciale to medium high. About 30 seconds before your pasta is ready, pour about 3 to 4 ladlefuls of pasta water into your pan. The starchy pasta water will not only help create the pasta sauce but it will also deglaze the pan, liberating any flavorful fond formed on the bottom of the pan by the pork.

Tossing Spaghetti alla Gricia
We add spaghetti to a pan of pasta water and guanciale in this Spaghetti alla Gricia recipe.

Once the spaghetti is cooked to just al dente (you can taste to check), use tongs to transfer the pasta to the pan for finishing.

If you choose to use a colander instead, you can move about 1 cup of the cooked pasta water to a heatproof measuring cup before draining your pasta. Though you may not need the water, it’s good to have some in reserve in case the sauce gets too thick.

Click here to buy the same All Clad pan that we use in our recipe. We swear by this pan.

Spaghetti alla Gricia in a Pan
Your Spaghetti alla Gricia will be done when you can see the bottom of the pan when you drag a wooden spoon.

Once the guanciale is in the pasta pan, mix the pasta, the pasta water and the guanciale. Add more pasta water as need to make a viscous sauce. (We typically use about 1 1/2 cups of the pasta water.)

Pecorino Romano for Spaghetti alla Gricia
Adding grated Pecorino Romano to the pan is one of the final steps.

Remove the pan from the heat. Add the Pecorino Romano and stir with the pasta. The sauce should be white and creamy. Grind in fresh black pepper to taste. You can optionally grate more Pecorino Romano when serving.

Spaghetti alla Gricia Wine Pairing

Silene, a Cesanese wine from the Lazio producer, has earthy yet fruity flavors and pairs well with food.

Wine Pairing: Silene – 2019 – Damiano Ciolli – Lazio – Cesanese

We like to pair Roman pastas with Roman wine. We paired this dish with Silene’s Damiano Ciolli, a light bodied red that we liken to an earthy pinot noir. Prominent flavors include mushroom, cherry and raspberry.

These flavors weren’t a surprise. Since we got this bottle as part of our Roscio Italian Wine Club delivery, we already knew that it was a winner.

Click here to join the Roscioli Italian Wine Club. The club delivers artisan wines like Silene to destinations around the world.

Spaghetti alla Gricia Recipe

Spaghetti alla Gricia on White Plate with Fork

Spaghetti alla Gricia

Yield: 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

Spaghetti alla Gricia is a tasty Roman classic that you can make at home with just a handful of ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 5 oz. guanciale (pancetta or bacon can substitute)
  • 1/2 lb. Spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese grated on the diamond setting of a box grater
  • salt for pasta water
  • ground black pepper to taste (about 1 to 2 tsp)
  • grated Pecorino Romano for serving

Instructions

  1. Place guanciale in the freezer for 30 - 45 minutes. Freezing the guanciale will make it easier to slice.
  2. Slice guanciale into lardons about 1/4" thick by a 1/2" wide.
  3. Place cut guanciale flat into a cool pan and turn heat on medium high.
  4. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting once the guanciale just begins to turn translucent, gets brown on the edges and renders its fat. Keep an eye on the pan. If the guancale looks like it's beginning to get too brown, remove it from the heat.
  5. Boil the spaghetti in 4 to 5 cups of salted water. (We like to add about a tablespoon of sea salt or table salt.) You may need to gently bend the pasta so it it's all submerged. Cook per instructions on the pasta box.
  6. Raise the heat on the guanciale to medium about 3 minutes before the pasta is ready.
  7. Just before removing the pasta, transfer 3 to 4 ladlefuls of the pasta water (about 1.5 cups) into the pan with the guanciale. Scrape up any brown bits that have accumulated in the pan.
  8. Use tongs to transfer the pasta to the guanciale pan. If you choose to use a colander to drain the pasta first, reserve about`1 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.
  9. Mix the pasta with the starchy pasta water and guanciale. Remove from heat.
  10. Add the Pecorino Romano and mix until the sauce is creamy. You should be able to see the bottom the pan when you drag a wooden spoon across it.
  11. Once the pasta and sauce are done, mix in a generous amount of ground black pepper to taste.
  12. Grate additional Pecorino Romano on the top of the pasta. Devour!

    Notes

    • You can replace guanciale with pancetta or bacon based on availability. However, we highly recommend guanciale for this dish.
    • If you serve this recipe as a starter, it should serve 4 people.
    • You can double this recipe to serve 4 main dishes.
    Nutrition Information:
    Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 834Total Fat: 53gSaturated Fat: 21gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 28gCholesterol: 358mgSodium: 2914mgCarbohydrates: 58gFiber: 4gSugar: 2gProtein: 30g

    Nutrition Disclosure: We used an online calculator to calculate this information. Though 2foodtrippers.com has attempted to secure accurate data, these nutritional figures are estimates.

    Hungry for More Pasta?

    Carbonara is just one of four classic pastas found in Rome. Check out our pasta recipes for Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, Rigatoni Amatriciana and Linguine Carbonara now. Then try Spaghetti alla Puttanesca from Naples.

    Pin It for Later

    Pinterest image: pasta with caption reading "How to Make Spaghetti alla Gricia"
    Red Beach Selfie in Santorini

    About the Authors

    Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

    Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

    Disclosure

    We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

    Luxardo Cherries | A Sweet Obsession
    ← Previous
    Bourbon Sidecar Cocktail
    Next →