Pasta alla gricia (or death by pasta)

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks traveling around Italy over the summer. We (boyfriend and I) made the lovely journey down to Rome from Paris on the train and had a fantastic few days doing all the things you do when in Rome.

I suffer from Travel OCD…which meant that we arrived prepared with a complete folder of information for each destination including 3 guidebooks and at least 100 restaurant recommendations. On our first night we had dinner in a place called Maccheroni near the Pantheon. We’d read about it in our Wallpaper city guide and seen it on a couple of foodie websites where we’d heard really good things about it.
It’s an inauspicious and rustic looking place near the Pantheon. It has an open kitchen, whitewashed walls and lots of scrubbed wood tables – very like St John in London actually. Service was initially the typically Roman sulky-with-tourists sort but we were excited anyway.
I didn’t have a starter but my BF had ordered the most amazing (and enormous) ball of milky mozzarella sprinkled with bottarga and grass-green spicy olive oil. We both had a ‘Primi’ of pasta – an enormous portion of good, chilli-ish arabiata – again really very good and quite enough food to be full and in no need of anything more.
It was then that we noticed that the woman at the next table had passed out and slipped onto the floor. Her dining companion called an ambulance and within minutes the restaurant was suddenly full of chain-smoking paramedics – none of whom seemed very keen to move her.
One of the waiters brought over a dish of Pasta Alla Gricia on the house, as a way of distracting us from the medical emergency unfolding before us. I’d never heard of the dish before and had to look it up on the internet when I got back – it’s the simplest recipe but probably the best pasta I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a lot!).  Needless to say we devoured the lot, marveling at how fantastic it was.
By now we were both really very full but my BF had already ordered a Secondi which duly arrived. In a fit of “when in Rome” he had bravely ordered the roman speciality Trippa Alla Romana – Roman style tripe. It arrived, it was actually delicious despite my preconceptions but I was just too full to help him eat it and he was beginning to struggle.
The girl who had passed out was eventually carried out to the waiting ambulance and one of the waiters came over to our table to apologise for the incident. My BF asked whether she was alright and the waiter replied that she’d be alright but had just had ‘too much heat’. As the waiter left my boyfriend turned to me, panic stricken and whispered ‘she’d had too much to eat!‘. After reassuring him he’d misheard the cause of her complaint, he seemed to develop a second wind and finished the tripe delightedly.

Anyway, I urge you to try pasta alla gricia – it’s barely a recipe as it’s got hardly any ingredients! It’s also pretty cheap if you keep cheese/pancetta/pasta in the house as a matter of course.

Pasta alla gricia 
  • Get some pasta into boiling water and cook as usual. 
  • Fry off a handful of diced guanciale or pancetta in a large frying pan (big enough to finish the pasta in). 
  • Grate a big handful of really good pecorino. 
  • When the pasta is ready, add it into to the frying pan with the guanciale reserving some cooking water. 
  • Add the cheese and stir, if it looks too sticky add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water.
  • Serve sprinkled generously with black pepper but use that old-school powdery black pepper, it makes all the difference. 

Just make sure you don’t have too much to eat…!


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