At the very beginning was an ancient, traditional recipe for pasta sauce called “gricia”. Still popular today in central Italy, la gricia is made with olive oil, guanciale, black pepper and pecorino cheese. Apparently, it was commonly cooked by shepherds of the area around Grisciano (municipality of Accumoli, in the province of Rieti, region Lazio ).
According to some, the people of Amatrice added tomatoes to gricia, creating thus our Amatriciana. The magic addition took place, it seems, sometimes between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century and became popular around the peninsula in the years of the Napoleonic Wars, when the recipe travelled along with a large amount of soldiers displaced from one corner of Italy to the other.
Pasta all’Amatriciana – or, indeed, “matriciana” as they say in Rome because of apheresis, a phonetic phenomenon that takes place when a vowel or a syllable at the beginning of a word falls – is strongly associated with the Italian capital even if, we saw, it does not originate from its streets.
It was brought into the city by the many Amatriciani who, during the 17th and 18th centuries, would travel to Rome from the hills to sell their produce, cheeses and cold cuts. In the 19th century, then, Amatriciani migrated in large numbers to the capital, where they helped cement the popularity of the dish.
The traditional type of pasta for this condiment is bucatini (thicker than spaghetti with a hollow center). Other kinds of pasta that are often used with this dish are spaghetti and rigatoni. My personal pasta preference for this dish is spaghetti.
400 grams of spaghetti
200 grams of guanciale
400 grams of canned san Marzano or cherry tomatoes, imported from Italy
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pecorino Romano cheese
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add coarse salt and cook the spaghetti until very al dente or just about done. The pasta will continue cooking to al dente when it is paired with the sauce in a skillet later on in the recipe.
- Cut the guanciale into 1 cm (¼ – ½ inch) thick strips, then cut the strips into 2 ½ cm (1 inch) lengths.
- Crush the canned tomatoes.
- In a skillet large enough to eventually hold all the ingredients add the guanciale and slowly fry to render the fat. Cook over medium heat until the guanciale is golden.
At this point remove ¼ of the guanciale in order to keep it crisp. Add the tomatoes. Cook at a simmer for 8-10 minutes; taste and correct for seasoning.
- Add the very al dente pasta to the skillet and continue cooking with the tomatoes.. When the pasta is done add the reserved crisp guanciale pieces and freshly grated pecorino romano to taste.
Note: Have a piece of pecorino on the table with a grater for those who desire more cheese.