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Urban legend: the Spaghetti alla Gricia

In one evening, among my guests there was a young Russian couple. As soon as the Spaghetti alla Gricia was ready it was served at the table. It was a wonderful dish, the guanciale was slightly crunchy outside, but still soft inside and the flavor was softened by the wine.

The young Russian woman looked at the plate of spaghetti and said “But where is the sauce?”. She also asked if she could have a bottle of ketchup.

Guanciale comes from the Lazio region and, more generally, from the center of Italy and is a kind of ‘pancetta’ but much finer. Pancetta is made from the ‘pancia’, which is the belly of the pig whereas guanciale is made from the ‘guancia’ – the cheek of the pig. Guanciale is typically fiddle-shaped, much sweeter, fattier and has pink veins in the lean part. It has a deeper aroma than pancetta. Guanciale is the absolute best when you prepare ‘amatriciana’ sauce, ‘carbonara’ sauce and ‘gricia’ sauce.

Unfortunately, in Italian restaurants abroad these recipes are a bit of mystery and therefore easy prey for fake dishes. Although ‘gricia’ sauce doesn’t usually fall into the fake category because it is not well known enough so isn’t offered in restaurants abroad. The chances of being able to eat an authentic dish made with guanciale are just about zero.

The recipe of spaghetti alla gricia is said to originate from Griciano which is a small town about 100 km north of Rome and not far from Amatrice, which is derived from the name of he recipe all’amatriciana. Even the debate regarding the origins of the recipe, whether it is from Lazio or to the adjacent region of Abbruzzo is still under question. This is because the village of Griciano used to once belong to the Abbruzzo region and was then ‘geo-politically’ shifted into Lazio by Mussolini in the 1930’s.

Gricia sauce and white Amatriciana are very similar and certainly precedes Amatriciana sauce, which is red, because the latter could only be made once the tomatoes arrived from the ‘new world’. To this day some old Roman trattoria have the white version on their menus.

A debate is still open as to whether the Gricia sauce and the white Amatriciana sauce are two different recipes, albeit with many similarities, or whether they are one recipe. The supporters of the first theory (Gricia) use black pepper. In the white Amatriciana sauce they use chilli pepper with a slice of onion that is removed before the pasta is added to the sauce. The supporters of yet another theory use black pepper, chilli pepper and onion in both recipes (this is according to the theory that the two dishes are really just one recipe). The solution has been lost in the mist of time and, in the case of Amatriciana sauce, we also cannot establish whether onion is an authentic ingredient of the original recipe.

Drawn from Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti Bolognaise & Caesar Salad by Maurizio Pelli.

For info: The Culinary Clinic by Maurizio Pelli.