Besides such classics as artichokes and saltimbocca, the cornerstones of Roman cuisine are these pasta dishes: gli spaghetti alla carbonara, i bucatini all ‘amatriciana, and i tonnarelli cacio e pepe. Not as well known outside of Italy are pasta alla gricia, which is like amatriciana without tomatoes, and creamy pasta alla papalina with ham. Also in this group is rigatoni alla zozzona, which combines ingredients from the three principal classic dishes—tomatoes, guanciale, egg yolks, and Pecorino Romano cheese—plus sausage.
Mixed together, these ingredients create a robust dish that is “zozzo,” which literally means “dirty,” in Italian, but in Roman dialect means “full of good, tasty and fatty things” Like traditional cuisine in Rome and the rest of Lazio, rigatoni alla zozzona is filling and hearty. It is based on ingredients produced in the surrounding countryside and on the popular belief that serving sizes need to be abundant enough to feed people who once worked in the fields.
It is unlikely that rigatoni alla zozzona will be found on the menus of high-end Roman restaurants. It is more typical fare in the trattorias of Trastevere or in the fraschette in the Castelli Romani area southeast of Rome. Fraschette originally were taverns where people went to try new wines; lacking kitchens, they served only wines, and possibly bread and cheese. Sometimes customers brought their own food. Over time, stands selling food sprung up in front of the fraschette. Today, fraschette operate more like restaurants that serve traditional Roman fare like porchetta, a local roast pork, and pasta dishes like rigatoni alla zozzona.
Here is a recipe for this pasta from the New York Times. Some variations call for passata or peeled tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes; almost all allow for pancetta in place of guanciale, which is sometimes difficult to find in the United States.
Rigatoni alla Zozzona
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound large rigatoni
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces guanciale (or pancetta), cut into 2-inch matchsticks
- 1 small yellow onion, minced
- 1 pound hot or sweet Italian sausages (about 4 to 5 sausages), casings removed
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cups cherry tomatoes (about 12 ounces)
- 1 cup red wine
- 4 egg yolks
- ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Once the water comes to a boil, cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of pasta water, then drain pasta.
- Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: Add the olive oil to a deep, large skillet and heat over medium-low. Add the guanciale in an even layer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat renders and the strips start to crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove guanciale to a small dish and set aside. Transfer the pan drippings to a small bowl, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the skillet.
- Increase heat to medium-high and stir the onion into the pan drippings, allowing it to soften, about 1 minute. Add the sausage and 1 teaspoon salt (optional) and break up the meat into small pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage has browned, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste, then the cherry tomatoes. Decrease heat to medium and stir in the wine. Cover the sauce with a lid and cook for 5 minutes.
- Remove the lid and, using the back of a spoon, break up the tomatoes and incorporate them into the sauce. Allow the sauce to cook, uncovered, for 5 more minutes.
- In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, ¼ cup cheese, the pepper and 1 tablespoon of the reserved guanciale drippings.
- Add the pasta and guanciale to the simmering sauce and stir to coat.
- Stir 2 tablespoons of the pasta water into the egg mixture. Turn off the heat and stir the egg mixture into the pasta until coated and glossy, adding 2 tablespoons more pasta water if needed. Transfer the pasta to a serving dish and top with additional cheese, if desired.