This classic pasta alla gricia recipe is easy to make with 3 main ingredients and always tastes so decadent and flavorful.
For all of you carbonara lovers out there, have you ever tried its egg-free cousin, pasta alla gricia? ♡
I have to admit that I’d somehow never even heard of this classic dish until we moved to Europe and spotted it on countless Italian menus here. As an avid fan of the other three of the four classic Roman pastas — cacio e pepe, carbonara, and Amatriciana — I was eager to give this lesser-known member of the fam a try. And now, many years and many (many) batches of pasta alla gricia later, I have to say that this simple dish has secured its spot as one of my all-time favorites.
Made solely with pasta, bacon and cheese, pasta alla gricia is basically like an egg-free carbonara or a tomato-free Amatriciana. But I’m telling you, it is three ingredient perfection. Guanciale (cured pork cheek) is the star of the show here, with its intensely rich, salty, savory flavor. And when fried to golden, chewy perfection and then patiently tossed with good-quality pasta and Pecorino cheese until a perfectly-emulsified silky sauce develops, you will quickly learn why pasta alla gricia has been one of the most popular dishes in Rome for more than a thousand years. It’s rich, comforting, and packs surprising layers of delicious savory flavors into every single bite. And here in our house, we can’t get enough of it.
That said, the key to all four classic Roman pasta dishes — with their famously short lists of ingredients — is learning the proper techniques to make them. I’ve experimented with a number of different recipes for alla gricia over the years (which mainly differ in terms of ingredient ratios and how long the pasta is simmered in the starchy guanciale sauce). And while I’ll be the first to point out that I am clearly not an expert in Italian cooking, I have landed on a ratio and method over the years that consistently works best for me, which I’m excited to share with you today.
I love this pasta alla gricia recipe because is easy to make in about 30 minutes from start to finish, it’s rich and bacon-y without being overly greasy, and it incorporates a few key steps that help the cheese melt perfectly into a glossy sauce (instead of sticking to the pan, which is always such a tragedy). I’m really, really, really going to insist that you try to track down some Italian guanciale in order to give this dish its authentically bold pork flavor, as well as some good-quality pasta and Pecorino-Romano cheese to make the sauce. But if those ingredients are unavailable in your area, I’ve included notes below for how to use pancetta (or bacon) and/or Parmesan instead, which won’t be traditional but will still definitely be delicious.
Alright, let’s make some pasta together!
Pasta Alla Gricia Ingredients
Before we get to the full pasta alla gricia recipe below, here are a few notes about the five main ingredients that you will need:
Guanciale: This cured pork cheek is the starring ingredient traditionally used in pasta alla gricia, and its rich, salty, intense pork flavor and perfectly crisp-chewy texture are phenomenal in this dish. Guanciale is usually prepared with a black pepper rub (if not, I recommend adding some extra black pepper to the dish). And you will need to cut the guanciale into thick, bite-sized pieces for this dish, although definitely note that the pieces will shrink considerably while cooking because of guanciale’s high fat-to-meat ratio. As mentioned above, I really really recommend trying to track down Italian guanciale for this dish. But if it is unavailable in your area, good-quality pancetta or bacon could be substituted instead. (See substitution notes below.)
Pecorino Romano: This aged sheep’s cheese is famously used in Roman pasta dishes, and its grassy, tangy flavor is so delicious here. As always, be sure to finely-grate the cheese by hand so that it will melt properly and weigh it ensure that you are adding the correct amount.
Pasta: Rigatoni and spaghetti (or bucatini) are the most common pasta shapes traditionally used in alla gricia, but feel free to use whatever shape of good-quality pasta that you have on hand.
Salt and black pepper: Then of course, we will need fine sea salt (not too much, since the guanciale is so salty) and freshly-ground black pepper to season the pasta.
Tips for Making Pasta Alla Gricia
The full instructions for how to make pasta alla gricia are included in the recipe below, but here are a few key tips I would recommend too:
Read through the recipe first. This recipe is not difficult to make, but it does require a bit of multitasking that goes quickly once you begin cooking. So I really recommend taking a few minutes to read the entire recipe fully beforehand.
Finely-grate the cheese by hand: As always, it’s important to grate the cheese by hand versus buying the pre-grated cheese at the store (which usually contains anti-caking agents that prevent the cheese from melting smoothly). So if you want a glossy sauce with the best flavor, use a microplane (or your preferred grater) to finely-grate the cheese just before cooking.
Be sure to use a large enough sauté pan. You are going to need ample room to toss the pasta when combining it with the sauce, so it’s important to have a large pan with plenty of space. (I also recommend using a non-stick sauté pan to help prevent the cheese from sticking to the pan, as well as to make for easier clean-up.)
Have a strainer or tongs ready to go. I find it’s much easier to use a spider strainer (or tongs, if using long noodles) to transfer the pasta directly from the stockpot to the sauté pan. But if you do not own either of those, use a heatproof cup to scoop out a few cups of the starchy water (always good to have more than you need, just in case). Then you can drain the pasta in a colander and transfer it immediately to the sauté pan.
Add starchy water as needed: Since the pasta will finish cooking in the sauce, it’s important that there is always plenty of water in the sauce for the pasta to soak up. So anytime you notice the sauce looks dry, add 1/4 of starchy pasta water to the sauce to help the pasta finish cooking.
Here are a few non-traditional variations that you are welcome to try with this pasta alla gricia recipe:
Use pancetta or bacon: Either of these non-traditional substitutions will work in place of guanciale, but they will not have the same intensity of flavor nor the same crisp-chewy texture. Guanciale has the highest fat-to-meat ratio and is cured for the longest amount of time. Pancetta would be the next most similar option, made from a different cut of pork, different seasonings, and not cured for nearly as long. And bacon will have a notably more smoky flavor. Still, feel free to use any of these three options that you prefer…all will be delicious. :)
Use Parmesan: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is not the traditional cheese used in this dish, but it can work as a substitute if it is what you have on hand. Or you can use a mix of both cheeses.
Add crushed red pepper flakes: If you would like to add a bit of heat to this dish, add some crushed red pepper flakes to the grease along with the black pepper. This is not a traditional ingredient, but I always enjoy the extra kick!
Make it gluten-free: Use a good-quality GF pasta to make this dish gluten-free.
Pasta Alla Gricia FAQ
Here are a few more fun facts to know about this gem of a recipe:
How do you pronounce “gricia”? This Italian word is pronouncedGREE-cha.
What is pasta alla gricia? It’s one of the four classic Roman pastas, traditionally made with pasta, guanciale, Pecorino-Romano and black pepper.
Where did pasta alla gricia originate? Pasta alla gricia originated in Lazio, the Italian region where Rome is located.
What does “gricia” mean in Italian? From what I’ve read, there are many different hypotheses about the origin of this term. It may be that the dish is named after the small village of Griciano, where it is said to have originated. It may have been named after the grici, who were the food vendors in the area.¹ Or the name may have been a reference to the charcoal gray color that was left behind in the pan after frying the guanciale.²
How does alla gricia differ from carbonara? It is similar to alla carbonara, but does not contain eggs. It is similar to all’amatriciana, but does not contain tomatoes.
This classic pasta alla gricia recipe is easy to make with 3 main ingredients and always tastes so decadent and flavorful.
8 ounces guanciale*
fine sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
12 ounces uncooked pasta (I used mezzi rigatoni)
2 ounces finely-grated Pecorino Romano
Cut the guanciale.Slice the guanciale into ¼-inch-thick slices. Then cut each slice into roughly ½ x 1-inch pieces. (It can help to freeze the guanciale for 10 minutes beforehand to make it easier to cut.)
Cook the guanciale.Heat a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-low heat. Add the guanciale to the pan and cook, stirring and flipping occasionally, until the guanciale is golden brown and crispy and the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. (Keep a close eye on the guanciale so that it does not burn.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the guanciale to a separate plate. Pour the remaining fat into a heatproof measuring cup. Measure out ¼ cup and return it to the pan and discard the rest.
Bloom the black pepper.Add 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper to the pan to the hot grease, then turn off the heat.
Boil the pasta.Meanwhile, fill a large stockpot about half full of water (roughly 3 quarts) and bring it to a boil. Since the guanciale and cheese are so salty, there’s no need to generously salt the pasta water, so just stir in 1 tablespoon salt. Add the pasta and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Emulsify the sauce.Meanwhile, once the pasta reaches the 6-minute point, carefully scoop up 1 1/2 cups of the starchy pasta water and transfer it to the sauté pan with the bacon grease. Turn the heat on the sauté pan to high to quickly bring the mixture to a boil, and gently stir to help the water emulsify with the grease as the sauce begins to reduce.
Finish cooking the pasta.Once the pasta reaches the 8-minute mark, use a spider strainer or tongs to immediately transfer the pasta to the sauté pan with the sauce. Gently toss the pasta continuously in the sauce for 3-5 minutes until the sauce has reduced and emulsified and the pasta is al dente, adding in an extra ¼ cup of the remaining starchy pasta water as needed anytime the sauce seems too dry.
Finish the pasta.Turn off the heat. Stir in the guanciale and half of the cheese and toss gently to combine. Stir in the remaining cheese and toss gently until the cheese has melted and the sauce is glossy, adding in an extra few tablespoons of the remaining starchy pasta water if needed to thin out the sauce.
Serve.Serve immediately, garnished with an extra sprinkle of cheese and a twist of black pepper.
We had this in Rome and it was AMAZING. Can’t wait to try this recipe.
I love the sound of this, even though I no longer eat pasta, and am certain that guanciale is not available in my area. The question I have is if there is a way to get the equivalent of starchy water, or something else that works for the sauce if I make the dish with cabbage in place of the pasta. I do Carbonara that way and it comes out great. Would just plain water work here?
This looks sooo good! I love all the pasta recipes you post. Is Barclay still vegetarian, or has he succumbed to your amazing cooking when it contains meat?
This looks great! How would you modify the cooking time for fresh pasta? Would you take it out of the pot at 1-2 minutes from al dente, or…?
It won’t work with fresh pasta — you need the starch from dried pasta to properly emulsify the sauce. That’s why the pasta is finished in the pan — to add starch. Fresh pasta isn’t nearly as starchy.
Delicious! Thanks for the recipe
Ali, this is delicious. I used bacon and linguini. Anytime I see gimmesomeoven I know the recipe will be great. Thank you
We fell in love with this pasta in Rome this summer and could not wait to make it back at home. Your recipe is perfection!! Took us right back!
Could you make this without gunaciale and with chicken instead? Or Turkey bacon?
I have made a VERY crude version of both of these but they were really good. Nothing better than simple ingredients easily done.