- 8 ounces pancetta, sliced ¼ inch thick
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper, plus extra for serving
- 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated fine (1 cup), plus extra for serving
- Slice each round of pancetta into rectangular pieces that measure about ½ inch by 1 inch.
- Heat pancetta and oil in large Dutch oven over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until fat is rendered and pancetta is deep golden brown but still has slight pinkish hue, 8 to 10 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to keep pancetta from browning too quickly. Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to bowl; set aside. Pour fat from pot into liquid measuring cup (you should have ¼ to ⅓ cup fat; discard any extra). Return fat to Dutch oven.
- While pancetta cooks, set colander in large bowl. Bring 2 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Drain pasta in prepared colander, reserving cooking water.
- Add pepper and 2 cups reserved cooking water to Dutch oven with fat and bring to boil over high heat. Boil mixture rapidly, scraping up any browned bits, until emulsified and reduced to 1½ cups, about 5 minutes. (If you’ve reduced it too far, add more reserved cooking water to equal 1½ cups.)
- Reduce heat to low, add pasta and pancetta, and stir to evenly coat. Add Pecorino and stir until cheese is melted and sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Off heat, adjust sauce consistency with remaining reserved cooking water as needed. Transfer pasta to platter and serve immediately, passing extra pepper and extra Pecorino separately.
Why this works
Pasta alla gricia is a simple pasta dish based on cured pork, black pepper, and Pecorino Romano. The fat from the pork (guanciale is traditional, but easier-to-find pancetta works well) combines with starchy pasta cooking water and cheese to create a creamy sauce for the pasta. The traditional method is to let parcooked pasta finish cooking in the sauce, where it will release its starch for body, but the technique can be finicky. For consistent results, we cooked the pasta to al dente in half the usual amount of water and then added the extra-starchy pasta cooking water to the rendered pork fat and reduced the mixture to a specific volume. The boiling action further concentrated the starches in the water and emulsified the mixture before we mixed in the pasta.
Because this pasta is quite rich, serve it in slightly smaller portions with a green vegetable or salad. For the best results, use the highest-quality pancetta you can find. If you can find guanciale, we recommend using it and increasing the browning time in step 2 to 10 to 12 minutes. Because we call for cutting the pancetta to a specified thickness, we recommend having it cut to order at the deli counter; avoid presliced or prediced products.