“Marcello, come here…!”
La gricia – Rome and La Dolce Vita
But wait, that’s not Anita Ekberg… and actually, ah well, never mind…
It is true, though, the Rowes were in Rome recently to celebrate their wedding anniversary: how Rom…antic!. This post recalls their glorious holiday, and showcases one of the dishes that best symbolises the eternal city.
They stayed, in fact, just around the corner from the fountain at the Hotel dei Borgognoni (a happy choice and highly recommended), and sampled the local cuisine. To be fair, it’s difficult not to end up in the tourist traps if you follow the beaten track – which is what the Rowes were mostly doing because of limited time. Spoilt for choice, they sampled many delicacies: artichokes, lamb (abbacchio) and others… but one dish really stood out for them, and that was the gricia.
Like most simple dishes, gricia relies on the highest quality ingredients: guanciale – the cheek of the pig, cured (one might be tempted to substitute more readily available thick bacon, but please don’t even think about suggesting that to a local) and Roman pecorino cheese are the two key ingredients, to which you will only add a sprinkle of freshly grated pepper. The type of pasta is important too: spaghetti and/or bucatini are commonly used, but our preference is for mid-size pasta (pasta corta) such as pennette rigate (smaller than regular penne) or mezze maniche or mini-tortiglioni. This time we used pennette rigate (Artigiano Pastaio Giuseppe Cocco).
Start by cutting the guanciale in thick ½cm matchsticks and fry until golden and crunchy (no need to add any oil to the pan because the guanciale releases its own fat). Meanwhile, bring to the boil a pan of water and cook the pasta for al dente cooking time minus 2 minutes (you want it very al dente). Get your pecorino cheese grated and ready to use – you will need a generous handful (50–60g).
Drain the pasta, reserving one cup of the cooking water. Toss the pasta in the guanciale, add the pecorino and some of the cooking water and – working quickly – mix well so that the cheese creates a creamy, slightly watery sauce. Work fast and be ready to sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, serve and tuck in at once. Remember, pasta doesn’t wait. Here, more than ever, speed is of the essence!
Other food highlights of the Rowes’ Roman sojourn were Est Artigiani del Gusto (delicious dark chocolate & wine cake); La Campana (artichokes and mixed starters, finger-licking abbacchio and their signature apple tart); Settimio all’Arancio (best gricia we had in Rome, excellent suckling pig and panna cotta alla sapa), we had never tried sapa (vincotto) before and we really liked it – in fact Fidget has been on a quest to find it again in London ever since.
Whether it is a romantic passeggiata in the gardens of Villa Borghese, a cultural visit to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, window-shopping in Piazza di Spagna and the high-end boutiques of Via dei Condotti, an ice cream at Giolitti, a quirky visit to the crypt and cloister of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, or watching the sun go down from the Pincio, Rome always has something special for you. And remember to toss your coin in the fountain: that way you will certainly be back!