History tells us that Grisciano shepherds would cook this dish as they traveled from the mountains of Central Italy to Rome, to sell their cheese and pigs. With the cured pig jowl known as Guanciale hanging from their belts, they’d stop to feed themselves by slicing off bits of the guanciale and making this powerful traditional recipe. This recipe is the mother of another two staple dishes in central Italy regional food culture, the Amatriciana and the Carbonara sauce.

I took liberty of adding Sage to this recipe, since I think that surely a sheer camping by a river would forage for some wild herbs to cook with it (at least, I would)! If guanciale is hard to source, you can replace with regular pancetta. Flavor will be a bit milder but recipe will always deliver!


Serves: 4 / Prep Time: 15 minutes / Cooking Time: 15 minutes

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1/4 lb guanciale (cured pig cheeks), sliced into 1/3-inch-thick strips 2 inches long
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 handful of fresh sage leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 pound pasta, such as penne or spaghetti


  1. In a large nonstick pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the guanciale and cook for about 5 minutes, making sure that the meat does not get too crunchy.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, until both the guanciale and garlic are golden brown (if you see that the garlic is browning too fast, you can always remove it from the pan and then add it again to the sauce after step 3 is completed).
  3. Add the sage and remove the sauce from the heat.
  4. In a 8-to 12- quart pot, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and use a wooden fork to stir the pasta so it won’t stick together. Cook until al dente.
  5. Drain and add to the sauce in the pan. Toss over medium-high heat while adding half of the Pecorino cheese.
  6. Garnish with the remaining Pecorino, a drop of extra virgin olive oil, and some freshly ground black pepper.