Rigatoni alla Grecia
A Classic Roman Pasta
- Servings: 4 as a main course and 6 to 8 as a side.
This savory, satisfying pasta is made with only three ingredients: pasta, pork fat, and cheese.
When in Rome, this classic pasta dish is always made with bucatini, a very thick spaghetti; guanciale, which is cured pork jowls; and Pecorino Romano cheese. Because bucatini can be difficult to find, even in New York City, we've substituted the thick, chewy rigatoni pasta.
But try not to make substitutions for the other two ingredients. It's worth making an effort to find guanciale because it is the pivotal flavor in this dish, plus it adds the perfect degree of unctuousness and gloss. If you give up on your search for guanciale (although we're providing three New York City sources for where you can buy it), pancetta is a reasonable alternative.
Pecorino Romano is a sheep's cheese made throughout southern Italy and is used by Romans as northern Italians use Parmigiano-Reggiano. But Pecorino has a sharper flavor and a less subtle personality and thus works better in this recipe than the more complex (and costly) Parmesan.
A flavorful Pecorino that is easy to find in markets around New York and elsewhere is called Locatelli which costs around $10.00 a pound. It's preferable to grate the Pecorino by placing chunks of it into a food process and pulverizing it until the cheese has become a grainy powder. Using a microplane to grate the cheese will instead produce soft flakes that will melt too easily and not mix correctly with the hot pasta and pork fat.
Do not make this dish with fresh pasta as its tender texture will overwhelm the guanciale and cheese. Instead, use a good quality dried pasta like DeCecco.
- 1 pound rigatoni (use a dry pasta such as De Cecco)
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 4 oz. guanciale sliced 1/4-inch thick; substitute pancetta only if you must
- 2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Begin bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Add the 2 tablespoons of salt.
- Cut the pieces of guanciale into 1-inch pieces.
- In a large skillet or sauté pan, cook the guanciale over a moderate heat until it is golden brown and crisp.
- Remove from the pan and drain on a piece of paper towel. Reserve.
- Drain off excess fat from the sauté pan, leaving about 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan. If the guanciale did not produce this much extra fat, add some extra virgin olive oil to make up the difference. Keep the sauté pan warm on the stove.
- Have your serving bowl ready and fill it with hot water from the tap. This serves to warm the bowl so that you don't put your finished pasta into a cold bowl.
- Have your grated cheese ready and measured out and reserved.
- When you have all the ingredients fully prepared, finish bringing the water to a boil and cook the rigatoni according to the package instructions but be sure to not over-cook it. Cook it al dente -- to the tooth -- so that it is still firm when bitten into.
- When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it, reserving a cup or so of the pasta water.
- Add the drained rigatoni to the sauté pan containing the warm pork fat, keeping a medium heat under the pan to help keep the pasta warm while you combine the ingredients.
- Sprinkle with half of the grated cheese.
- Use tongs or a pasta fork to toss the pasta with the pork fat and grated cheese, adding a 1/4 cup of the hot pasta water to help everything combine. Stir until the water is absorbed and the cheese has melted and coated the rigatoni, adding a little more pasta water if the cheese and pork fat aren't combining to create a sauce-like surface on the pasta.
- Add the pieces of guanciale and gently toss to combine.
- Turn off the heat under the pan and empty the hot water from the serving bowl; don’t worry about completely drying the bowl as any droplets of water are fine to leave there.
- Transfer the pasta to the warm serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese. Toss to combine.
- Serve immediately.
You can find guanciale at Blue Apron Foods in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at most Fairway markets in their deli departments, and at Buon Italia at Chelsea Market in Manhattan.