Guanciale fat melts when cooked, and adds a rich, deep pork flavour to any dish. If you make either of these dishes without guanciale, you may have made a perfectly tasty plate of pasta, and that’s fine, but - and the Italians are very clear on this - you haven’t made spaghetti carbonara and you haven’t made pasta all’amatriciana.
Italy has a wealth of regional pasta dishes, over which the locals are fiercely protective. TV chef Carlo Cracco discovered this to his cost when he added a rogue garlic clove to his Amatriciana and found himself being reprimanded by no less than the mayor of Amatrice, the small town in Latium from which the dish takes its name. True Amatriciana sauce, according to the mayor, should contain only guanciale, pecorino cheese, white wine, San Marzano tomatoes, pepper and chilli pepper. Even the tomatoes are a rather grudging late addition, and must be peeled fresh tomatoes rather than passata.
All of this may seem a little strict, but if you stick to the rules for making Amatriciana, we promise that the results will be worth it. Maintaining the delicate balance of the original ingredients in any recipe can mean setting aside unnecessary items you thought you should be using, as well as sourcing that one special ingredient that really makes the dish sing. Stick to the original, tried-and-tested recipe, and you could find yourself surprised by the extra depth in flavour in a dish you thought you knew. Don’t believe us? Try swapping the bacon in your Amatriciana or carbonara for guanciale, and you’ll see what you’ve been missing.
If you want to know how not to make carbonara, however, check out this clip of three chefs from Rome - the home of carbonara - reacting in horror to popular internet videos recommending the addition of cream, oil, butter, oil and butter, garlic, and even red onion. How many of the non-Italian internet chefs remembered to use guanciale?
How to use guanciale: tips and tricks
Guanciale is not only an ingredient in pasta dishes. In Italy it is often enjoyed as a winter snack, thinly-sliced and eaten with bread or other cured meats. Accompany with a glass of Chianti for maximum authenticity.
Because of its intense flavour, a little guanciale goes a long way, and you’ll likely end up with some leftovers. Luckily, cured meats are relatively long-lasting, and you can keep guanciale for up to six months. Store in a refrigerator, wrapped in paper, and cut a slice as needed.
The key thing to remember when cooking guanciale is that you don’t need to add a lot of fat. Guanciale has its own fat built-in, which melts easily when heated, infusing everything in the pan with its delicious pork flavour. Adding extra oil or butter will mar the flavour, and your dish will be greasy.
Finally, if you want to know how to make a real spaghetti carbonara, using guanciale, it couldn’t be easier.
- Add dried spaghetti or rigatoni to salted, boiling water and cook until al dente. Keep a cup of the cooking water.
- Cut the guanciale into strips and fry until crunchy. Keep some of the fat from the pan for the pasta noodles.
- Whisk egg yolks, pepper, pecorino cheese, and a few spoonfuls of cooking water in a mixing bowl. Then add the guanciale fat to the noodles.
- Combine egg mixture, noodles, and guanciale. Mix well, and serve while still warm.
Try it for yourself with this recipe for traditional pasta carbonara.
Because of its intense flavour, a little guanciale goes a long way, and you’ll likely end up with some leftover. Luckily, cured meats are relatively long-lasting, and you can keep guanciale for up to six months. Store in a refrigerator, wrapped in paper, and cut a slice as needed.
Finally, if you want to know how to make a real spaghetti carbonara, using guanciale, it couldn’t be easier. Simply add a mixture of egg yolk and grated Italian cheese to cooked spaghetti, with a little reserved water, and finish with guanciale fried in its own fat.