la gricia, la cucina de na vorta

It’s still 1989. Or even once upon a time.

This dish is a classic in Italy [cf. ‘pasta alla gricia‘]. In a way, it was already a classic to me before I had even tasted it: Because it included a recipe, for a pasta preparation called ‘la Gricia’, that looked so genuine and uncomplicated, and the photograph that accompanied it so seductive, I had cut out a newspaper article describing a very simple peasant dish many years before Barry and I sat down to it in a Trastevere trattoria in the Vicolo del Mattonato. “da Lucia” serves, in Roman dialect, la cucina de na vorta (the cooking of once upon a time), and it was the same place featured in that 1989 New York Times article); I began reproducing it as soon as we returned to New York, and the dish is now a classic in our kitchen.

We’ve returned to da Lucia many times. We actually always sat at a table outside (no fancy umbrellas back then, only laundry overhead, and one evening the sound of crockery being thrown in anger, but these are images of the inside, which has its own charms.

  • nine ounces of Pastificio Fratelli Setaro Torre Annunziata Napoli Rigatoni [a long pasta can be substituted, but it must always be a very good artisanal pasta] from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market boiled until (barely) al dente, while reserving some of the liquid, in many quarts of water inside a large vintage stainless steel pot [provenance: the Warren-and-Wetmore-designed-Providence-hotel-gone-out-of-business-1975-liquidation-sale], to which at least 2 tablespoons of sea salt had been added once the water had come to a boil, the pasta drained and tossed into a large enameled cast iron pot in which 5.5 ounces [the amount is variable] of “aged guanciale“, also from Buon Italia, cut in half-inch square pieces, had been heated, stirring with 2 tablespoons of Whole Foods Market Portuguese house olive oil, but for little more than about a minute, most of a cup of reserved pasta water added and everything stirred over high heat until the liquid had emulsified, then several tablespoons [yes, several tablespoons] of very good freshly-ground Whole Foods house black pepper stirred in, the pot removed from the heat and about 3 or 4 tablespoons of roughly-shredded pecorino cheese (Romano Sini Fulvi, again from Buon Italia), tossed in and stirred, the now finished pasta left standing for 30 seconds or more before it was served in shallow bowls, with more cheese and black pepper placed in containers on the table 
  • the wine was a Portuguese (Vinho Verde) white, Antonio Lopes Ribeiro 2017 (Casa de Mouraz) Vinho Verde ‘Biotite’, from Chambers Street Wines
  • the music was the album, ‘Hamburger Ratsmusik, consort music c. 1600’, works by the peripatetic English expatriate violinist, violist, and composer Henry Brade, Jordi Savall conducting the ensemble Hesperion XX (my favorite citation in his Wikipedia entry is this: “All of Brade’s surviving music is for string instruments, and most is for dancing.”)