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Friday, January 23, 2009

My Secret Love Affair


Yes, dear readers, it's true. I am having an affair. It has been going on for quite a while now. I've thought of little else since the first time we met. I think I'm in love! Hopelessly and helplessly in love! I've told Mr. SGCC and he seems to understand. My beloved is a complex one- strong, yet mellow, deep and rich, rich, RICH! Who is this secret lover of mine? My dear one's name is Guanciale. Yes, that's right - Guanciale. And, it was truly love at first sight bite!

HAH! I had you going there for a minute, didn't I? But, I speak the truth. I am having a love affair with guanciale. Never heard of it? Let me enlighten you.


Guanciale is a unique form of unsmoked Italian bacon made from pig's cheeks. The cheeks are bathed in wine and cured in salt, herbs and spices. Then they are air-dried for several weeks to months. This cheek or jowl fat has a different quality to it than traditional bacon or pancetta, which comes from the belly of the beast. It is smoother and melts more easily, giving dishes a richer, mellower and intensely "porky" flavor.

I first learned about the wonders of guanciale from Amy over at We Are Never Full. After reading Amy's rhapsodic narrative and feasting my eyes on her mouthwatering photos of her Perciatelli all' Amatriciana, I knew I had to get my hands on some that stuff!


Guanciale is such a specialty item, that many Italians, even those living in Italy, don't even know what it is. However, once one has tasted it in a creamy Carbonara or zesty Amatriciana, they will not soon forget it!

Guanciale is not widely available in Italy, and it is almost impossible to find here in the United States. So, imagine my surprise and delight when I saw some in the deli case at my local Italian market. Nita and Raj from Casa Italia managed to find a salumeria, or "cured meat shop" which makes their own guanciale and supplies it to them.


I couldn't buy that stuff fast enough! With a pound and a half package of guanciale in my greedy, little hands, I dreamt of the gastronomic joys I would create with it.


Perciatellli or Spaghetti all' Amatriciana is one of the most celebrated dishes in Italian cuisine It is commonly associated with the region of Lazio, and it actually comes from the town of Amatrice, for which it is named, in the province or Rieti. To be truly authentic, this dish must be prepared with guanciale, although it is often made using pancetta and is quite tasty that way. In addition to the guanciale, the original Amatriciana sauce also contained pepper and grated pecorino, which is a sharp, aged, sheep's milk cheese. Nowadays, many versions will also contain garlic, onions and tomato sauce.

My sugo, or sauce, comes from a combination of Amy's recipe and Mario Batali's version served at Babbo, with a few of my own tweaks. First, the guanciale is sauteed to render its fat. Onions are sauteed slowly in that fat until slightly caramelized. Garlic and hot red pepper flakes are added and sauteed a little bit more. Then, the guanciale is added back into the pan with tomato sauce and simmered to porky perfection. The result is a robust and deeply flavorful sauce.


The most popular pasta type for this dish is Perciatelli/Bucatini, which is a long, thick pasta with a tiny hole running through the center. The name comes from buco, meaning "hole" in Italian. This time, I used regular old spaghetti. I guess I was so excited about finding the guanciale at Casa Italia, that I forgot to buy the bucatini! It doesn't really matter much which form of pasta you use. The sauce is the thing. I've also included the recipe for Mario's Basic Tomato Sauce. It is the one I used and it is a good one.

If you can possibly beg, borrow or steal some guanciale, I really urge you to try this dish. Your eyes will roll back into your head and your toes will curl - just like mine did. And then my friends, your own love affair will begin!

Spaghetti all' Amatriciana
(Printable Recipe)
Serves 4


¾ pound guanciale, or pancetta, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups tomato sauce, homemade or good quality jar sauce
1 pound bucatini or spaghetti
Pecorino Romano, for grating
Fresh basil for garnishing


Being a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt.

Place the guanciale slices in a 12- to 14-inch saute pan in a single layer and cook over medium-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered from the meat, turning occasionally. Remove the meat to a plate lined with paper towels and discard half the fat, leaving enough to coat the garlic, onion and red pepper flakes. Cut into 1-inch pieces and set aside.

Saute the onions over medium-low heat until very sweet and tender, about 20-30 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and saute a few minutes more until garlic is tender.

Return the guanciale to the pan with the vegetables. Add the tomato sauce, season with salt and pepper and simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in the boiling water according to the package directions, until al dente.

Drain the pasta and add it to the simmering sauce, tossing to coat.

Divide the pasta among four warmed pasta bowls. Top with freshly grated pecorino cheese, garnish with basil and serve immediately.

Basic Tomato Sauce
adapted from Mario Batali


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped in 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
Salt to taste


In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the thyme and carrot, and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft.

Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve.

This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Makes 4 cups.

For more pasta dishes from SGCC, check out:

Chicken Pasta Alfresco

Spaghetti alla Fra Diavolo con Vongole

Pasta Primavera with Scallops

Easy Peasy Meatball Ziti

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta Pissaladiere


Tartelette said...

Well Susan, I am in love too! This sounds delicious!

Patsyk said...

Oh, I think I can see why you'd have an affair! ;) Looks irresistable.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I am a fickle woman. I have multiple love affairs with particular foods.

I have never tried guanciale, but I have been hearing about it quite a bit and it is really getting my interest up. There is a deli near my home that specializes in Italian imports and specialties and they started selling guanciale. One day I"m going to try it.

The first time I ever heard of Amatriciana sauce was in the Silver Palatte Good Times Cookbook. That version had onions, tomatoes, wine, and canadian bacon. I was fond of the recipe since the first time I tried it, but one day I do hope to make it with guanciale, or at the very least, pancetta.

Karen said...

Given a chance for a love affair with a man or with this dish - I'll take the dish! Great post :)

J.Danger said...

oh yum this looks so good! I don't know if I could try this Guanciale....cheeks huh. But you have me intrigued! It certainly looks delicious!

The Food Hunter said...

You are so lucky to be able to find guanciale where you live. I might have to come for a visit and steal your lover :-)

Michele said...

Wow! That looks great and I'm starving!!!

RecipeGirl said...

Triple yum, I'm in love too. And I would definitely like to taste this is a Carbonara. Alas, I will have to wait until I turn into a skinny blonde goddess before I dare to indulge in such a treat!!

noble pig said...

I have been educated here today. I have never heard of this and you can bet I am now on the lookout. Thanks for letting us know!

Anonymous said...

OH YES! The first time we had guanciale was on a pizza with fried eggs and basil. Heaven. Pure heaven. It must be like an angel singing when paired with pasta.

diva said...

oooh. i have never heard or tasted of guanciale but it looks amazing. and all i'm thinking right now is something that tastes even better than smoked bacon! i'm envious of your love affair. :) ooooh. raunchy. x

Gera @ SweetsFoods said...

Hi Susan!

I've never tried Guanciale but worth to try! Thanks for enlighten and lighten up me :) Today is Italian Day! Pasta too!!

squawmama said...

Oh Susan you are always tempting me... This sounds so sinful and I am definitely going to make it soon... I am a lover of Italian foods and you just wet my appetite all the time... Lovin it!


we are never full said...


i'm verklempt (totally butchered the spelling and can't be bothered to look it up). i'm speechless. you've brought a tear to my eye. not since i wrote my post on the beloved guanciale has anyone touched my soul w/ their love of it to until now. you GET IT. and i'm SO happy you cooked the onions in the rendered fat. to me, that makes the dish. it's just that extra pork flavor it gives...

thank you so much for the shout out but, more than that, thank you for finding and loving guanciale!!

Anonymous said...

I'm in heaven. Right? :)

Joy the Baker said...

You're so right about guanciale! It's one of my favorite secret ingredients. Even better than pancetta!

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh... that sounds, and looks, amazing! Another food to put on my list of things to keep an eye out for! In the meantime... pass me a fork!

Meg said...

Yum! Who can resist pasta? NOT ME!

PaniniKathy said...

Never had guanciale, but now I want it!

Jen Yu said...

Okay girlfriend... two things. 1) I didn't know what guanciale was until reading your post (I had an idea, but your description won me over). 2) You have put yet another mission into my head (to seek out and try guanciale) and 3)... okay - THREE things - that I know I want to eat pasta made by your beautiful hands someday because EVERY pasta dish you post makes me think that this will someday be my destiny. I hope ;) xxoo. Love affair indeed!!

Proud Italian Cook said...

This is the second time today that I've seen this in the blogospere! Is someone trying to tell me something?? I'am now dreaming of gaunciale!! I will now be on the look out for it!

white on rice couple said...

Susan, let us have an affair together, shall we?!! I recently discovered guanciale and am totally in LOVE with the flavors! It's so amazing, I can't really describe it. But your amazing photographs prove why I love it so much!
Thanks for sharing such great information on it, I'm forever hooked now.

Snooky doodle said...

Wow what a lovely plate of pasta! I m in love with it too. :) I have heard of guanciale but I tought it was bacon or something similar. Did't know it was made from the pig's cheeks. In fact guancia means cheek so i should have thought of it :) ave to try it this one. hope i ll find some to buy . thanks for sharing

CookiePie said...

Is it wrong that I want that for breakfast right NOW??

Kevin said...

This is the first that I have heard of Guanciale. I will have to look for it. That pasta looks amazing!

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Well, I can see that I'm not the only food "romantic" around here! Thank you all for your enthusiastic comments! I'm so happy that you like my pasta and share my infatuation with guanciale!

If anyone is interested in trying it and can't find it, there are some places to order online. Email or DM me and I'll give you some sources. Also, there are a few sites that show how to make guanciale yourself.

Karen- At least pasta will never cheat on you or steal the remote! ;)

Food Hunter- Hmmph! Over my dead body! ;)

duodishes- OMG! On pizza! That does sound heavenly!

Amy- I really do GET it! Your excellent post had me drooling and dreaming about guanciale. I thought your recipe was better than Mario's. Caramelizing the onions in the rendered fat is the only way to go!

Maryann- You betcha!

Jen- You are the Queen of the Extraordinary! Guanciale is right up your alley. You must try to find some and go crazy with it. And, you're always welcome to come and share pasta with me. You don't even have to bring your own fork! ;)

WoRC- Sounds like a great idea! You need to come up with an Asian-inspired dish using guanciale. Now, THAT would be something!

Tangled Noodle said...

When I pass on, please tell them that my final wish was to be covered in guanciale.

Obsessive Foodie or Food Addict....You Decide said...

I have had Halibut Cheeks and loved them.....pigs cheeks I have not had :(

This pasta looks incredible. Hey, if you are going to have an affair.....who better to have it with than food. Best orgazm on earth.

Mila said...

I have had Guaciale before it really is delicious! Not too many people know how delicous pig's cheeks are :)

Cookie baker Lynn said...

I don't know that I can handle an affair that intense. It does sound amazing, though.

Bellini Valli said...

Now that I have heard about this I will have to keep my eyes open and ask for it at our local Italian market.

Peter M said...

The pasta lookd delish but that slab of guanciale is "the business"...the money shot...I melt like the fat did in the skillet.

maggie said...

Yum. Love this stuff. Need to buy some more guanciale of my own.

Kristen said...

I think I liked it better before I knew what it was ;) It looks fabulous though. Those photos are mouth watering!

Anonymous said...

Guanciale is love, i agree! I posted a recipe of gnocchi with guanciale a little while back and it was wonderful. I want to try your now! Yum!

Brilynn said...

Why oh why have I never had this before??? It looks spectacularly good!

Lori Lynn said...

We have a darling Italian market here in town, but they don't carry it. Boo hoo. I think I'll go ask again after reading your post, maybe they can make a special order.

Liliana said...

The first time I tried guaciale was in Italy and I have been in love with it ever since. Usually one of the butchers in out Little Italy will have it and I buy tons!

Thanks for sharing the recipes.

pigpigscorner said...

Guanciale is something new to me! Sounds really delicious! I'll try looking out for some at the deli!

Downright Dave said...

Damn this sounds great! I think I'll try it tonight :)