Pasta alla Gricia
1 lb pasta (For this, either use rigatoni or a long pasta — spaghetti, bucatini, etc)
½ lb pancetta (Note: You can and should use guanciale if you can find it. It’s cured pork jowl and is absolutely incredibly)
Pecorino Romano (Not going to give you an amount here. You should get a block of it and use it to taste. I like keeping a block of Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano around the house)
½ cup of pasta water (you’ll make this along the way!)
1–1 ½ tsp Red chili flakes (use more the spicier you want it, the fresher the better!)
Kosher salt (to taste)
Maldon salt (only to be used at the end on top)
Black pepper (freshly ground)
Notes before you begin:
Generously salt the pasta water. It should have the same salinity as the ocean. Remember, only a little of this will actually get into the pasta itself and will exponentially bring out the flavor.
We’ll be adding salt in two unexpected places: the pecorino and the pancetta. These are very salty ingredients on their own and can overpower the dish if you aren’t careful. Before you add any Kosher salt to the final product, remember to taste it. You can always add salt, you can’t take it out.
This dish is very simple and basically made up of four ingredients: Pasta, pancetta or guanciale, black pepper, and Pecorino Romano. This means that each needs to shine through! Get the nicer versions of each ingredient (a good block of Pecorino, pancetta from a butcher, etc) and you will not regret it!
Bring the water to a boil and add the pasta. Make sure the water continues at a rolling boil after adding the pasta — basically, keep it on high heat or whatever heat keeps a lot of large bubbles in the pot. However long the box says to cook the pasta, take off two minutes and start tasting a piece every twenty seconds. The pasta should be al dente (a little chewy) but you should still cook it to your taste.
Right before straining the pasta, take a pyrex measuring cup or a mug and set aside a ½ cup of starchy, salty, perfect pasta water. This is very important! The starch in the pasta water will be key later on.
As soon as you strain the pasta, drizzle with olive oil and gently toss in the strainer. This will prevent it from sticking together as much.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, throw in the pancetta (or guanciale). Cook it stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered out, pooling in the pan, and the meat begins to brown around the edges (7–10 minutes). About six minutes in, add some fresh ground black pepper (7–10 twists of the pepper mill). Heating the pepper will allow the spice to bloom and get more complex.
Bring the heat down to medium, clear a little pool in the rendered fat, and add the red pepper flakes, making sure they are completely coated. Let the flake sit for 30 seconds to allow the spicy oil to seep into the fat, then thoroughly stir the mixture together for the last minute or so of cooking.
Pour in half of the reserved pasta water, stirring or whisking the mixture together. It should create a cloudy, off-white mixture. This means that it is emulsifying (The starch in the pasta water to combine the water and fat, which you otherwise cannot do) and creating the base of your sauce.
Throw in the cooked pasta and toss it in the sauce, making sure every piece is completely coated (1–2 minutes). After all the pasta has been covered in sauce, turn off the heat and grate an aggressive amount of the pecorino over the top. It will probably be about 1–1 ½ cups of grated pecorino by the end, but you should add in as much as you want here. Stir it all together, letting the residual heat of the pasta gently melt the pecorino. Try some and season to taste.
Serve with fresh cracked black pepper and more grated pecorino over the top. Enjoy!