Risotto

Plain risotto with onion

Plain risotto with onion

Several weeks ago the restaurant was closed and we taught a series of cooking classes instead. At each of the cooking classes we made risotto with sausage and cranberry beans, which we also served at the restaurant back in October.

In a traditional Italian meal, there are two principal courses (primo piatto, and secondo piatto), often preceded by an appetizer (antipasto) and followed by a dessert (dolce). The primo piatto is invariably a soup, pasta, or risotto. Risotto is the creamy rice dish of certain Northern Italian regions, made with one of several special rice varieties and a unique cooking method in which one adds liquid only gradually while stirring almost constantly.

The most common rice for making risotto is arborio. It is pretty widely available these days in most supermarkets, though just like with pasta, I find imported arborio superior to domestic if you have a choice. Although arborio is the most common risotto rice both here and in Italy, it is not the finest. In the Veneto, Italians prefer vialone nano. Elsewhere, carnaroli is the considered the finest rice for risotto. What all three have in common is a high percentage of amylopectin, the same sticky starch which makes yukon gold the perfect potato for gnocchi. But some arborio can become almost too creamy and begin to dissolve. It also tends to have a narrow window between undercooked and overcooked (like pasta, risotto should be serve al dente). Vialone nano and carnaroli (which is a cross between vialone nano and a Japanese variety) produce creamy risotto with more distinct kernels and a larger window between under and overcooked.

Certainly, making risotto with arborio is better than not making risotto, but the extra trouble to acquire vialone nano or canaroli is well worth it, and does a lot to explain why the risotto we made recently at the restaurant and in classes was so well regarded. The rice we use is a very special carnaroli from Piedmont called acquerello, which we mail order from Amazon. 

Acquerello is actually aged and enriched with the the nutritious germ of the rice kernel. Although it takes longer to cook than other types (25 to 27 minutes), the result is well worth the wait.

Often, recipes indicate that the rice needs to be stirred constantly, but this is not true. As long as you don’t step away for too long and as long as the rice doesn’t dry out and burn, you’ll be fine. I usually stir for a minute or so and step away for a minute or so. This is one reason risotto in restaurants is often so dreadful. Unless the kitchen has someone dedicated to stirring for 25 minutes (which few do), the risotto will be partially pre-made and reheated (yuck!).

Some cooks add a little white wine before adding broth. We never do, but it is certainly worth experimenting with. Of course, in addition to the quality of your rice, the character of your risotto will be determined largely by what type of broth you use. If the only way you’ll ever make risotto is to use store-bought broth, by all means do, but your results will be far superior with homemade broth. Homemade broth is really quite easy. Simply add some a few pieces of chicken or a chicken carcass in a large pot with an onion or two and several carrots and stalks of celery. If you have some meaty bones of beef, all the better. Bring to a near boil (about 180 degrees) and keep at that temperature for a few hours before cooling, straining, and refrigerating or freezing. You can let it boil, but the broth will be less clear and more cloudy. We don’t salt our broth, preferring to more aggressively season whatever we’re adding the broth to. With frozen broth on hand, you can make risotto or soup at a moment’s notice. If you’re vegetarian, simply omit the meat and double the quantity of vegetables. Really couldn’t be easier.

Like pasta sauces, there is an infinite number of possible risotto dishes to make. The most basic risotto is simply given a flavor base of gently sauteed onion. We tend to prefer slightly heartier risotti with meat and/or beans, such as the recipe you’ll find below, which we first learned from Marcella Hazan’s beautiful cookbook Marcella Cucina.

If you can make your own sausage, all the better. If not, try to find a minimally seasoned one without fennel or just use heavily seasoned ground pork. Cranberry beans are similar to borlotti beans in Italy. They’re a bit hard to find, but they can be mail ordered, or you can use a canned version which Goya markets as “Roman Beans”. It’s best to buy dried beans and soak/cook them yourself, but the canned beans wouldn’t be too great a sacrifice in this dish.

Risotto with Sausage and Cranberry Beans

  1. Bring about 5 or 6 cups of broth to a lazy simmer.
  2. Brown about ½ cup sausage in a pot with some olive oil, and then add about ½ cup onion and cook until just softened.
  3. Add about a cup of cooked or canned cranberry beans along with a knob or two of butter.
  4. Add 250 grams rice (about 1 ½ cups) and about ½ to 1 teaspoon salt (assuming no salt in your broth), and stir for a minute or two to coat the kernels.
  5. Begin adding broth a ladleful or two at a time, keeping the heat on medium. After each addition, the pot should look soupy. When most of the liquid is absorbed in a few minutes, add another ladleful or two until the rice is done (20 to 25 minutes depending on the type). If you run short on broth, continue with water.
  6. The risotto is done when al dente, tender but firm. When it is just about finished, add another knob of butter and about ½ cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano. If necessary, add a little broth to obtain a nice, creamy consistency. In some places, risotto is more soupy than others, though it should never really look like a soup. On the other hand, if it is too dry and sticky, it can be quite wearying. Garnish with a thin sliver of butter, more parmigiano, and possibly some chopped parsley.

Gnocchi at last

The first indication that all is not right with gnocchi recipes is that they directly contradict each other. Some say that one must only use russet baking potatoes; others say that russet potatoes won’t work. Some say you need an egg. Others say an egg will ruin the dough. Some say to boil the potatoes. Others say they must be baked. Some insist on using imported Italian flour. Others say American flour is just fine. Some insist on giving the gnocchi an impression by pressing them against a fork. Others say to skip this cosmetic step. Some say that making gnocchi is “easy and simple”. Others write that they have mastered it only after decades of experience. What in the world is going on?

My introduction to gnocchi came through Marcella Hazan’s excellent book The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which was my daily guide in the early years of learning to cook. She says definitively that the potato must be neither too mealy (like a russet) nor too waxy. It must, moreover, not be a freshly dug “new” potato, but one which has aged a bit and become an “old” potato. She also says definitively that though some cooks even in Italy use an egg, it is looked down upon and creates a rubbery product which some refer to as “Paris style” (tells you what Italians think of Parisian cooking). I don’t really remember my first attempts years ago to make gnocchi, but I know they weren’t encouraging. Concluding that gnocchi just weren’t that impressive, I lost interest in them for years.

But then I found myself in Rome under the tutelage of guide Katie Parla. After complaining about some mediocre gnocchi I’d eaten the night before, and after hearing Katie’s explanation that many places serve low quality gnocchi made from dehydrated potato flakes (yuck!), Katie took me to L’Arcangelo, not too far from the Vatican and Castel Sant’ Angelo. She assured me that Arcangelo’s were the finest gnocchi in town and some of the best in all of Italy. That is high praise, but Arcangelo’s gnocchi didn’t disappoint. After years of hearing that gnocchi should be like airy pillows but never experiencing anything close to that, the first bite at L’Arcangelo were a complete revelation. They were indeed weightless and exquisite. Sweetening the deal further, he had sauced them with the most exquisite expression which I had ever had of the Roman pasta sauce all’ Amatriciana (tomato with guanciale and pecorino). It remains one of the finest dishes I’ve eaten in my life. And on each return visit, the same experience has been consistently repeated. Desperate for some inkling of Arcangelo’s secret, he explained that the key was to boil the potatoes in equal parts salt and water.

Gnocchi all' Amatriciana at l' Arcangelo in Rome

Gnocchi all’ Amatriciana at l’ Arcangelo in Rome

Of course, equal parts salt and water is more like a slurry than anything to cook potatoes in. Maybe something was lost in translation. Maybe he was just pulling our leg. But it did lead me to an intriguing discovery: Syracuse salt potatoes. Salt potatoes originated in Syracuse, NY when salt miners would boil potatoes using the local salty water from the marshes near the mines. Using an incredible salt ratio of 1 cup of salt for 6 cups of water, the method raises the boiling point of the water so much that the potatoes cook at a higher temperature and the water more completely cooks the starch, giving the potatoes a remarkably firm but creamy texture. Though one would imagine that so much salt would make the potatoes inedible, the skins protect the potatoes and they hardly absorb any salt at all.

I had a hunch that something like this might be what Arcangelo was talking about. But when I made them using the method described by Marcella and also her son Giuliano, I still had heavy, gluey gnocchi. Although I revere Marcella Hazan, I began to doubt that her recipe could produce the sort of gnocchi I was looking for.

So I began to look at other recipes. I quickly learned that about 95% of all gnocchi recipes call for russet baking potatoes (the kind Marcella says won’t work) and an egg. The most exacting of these call for baking rather than boiling the potatoes, which makes sense. Since adding too much flour is the downfall of gnocchi and since the drier the potato the less flour will be needed, it seemed logical that baking the potatoes would decrease their moisture and make for lightly gnocchi. So I tried this method, but to no avail. They were edible, but not the ethereal gnocchi I was seeking. I even went to a cooking class taught by a chef I greatly admire. But she too called for baking potatoes and an egg, and her gnocchi were good, but they weren’t the ethereal gnocchi I was seeking. A friend of mine was also seeking to master gnocchi and we would commiserate at the seeming impossibility of the task. If not for my taste memory at L’ Arcangelo, I would have dismissed gnocchi and given up.

But then, pouring over recipes and articles on-line and in books, I noticed that the most authoritative sources still seemed to argue for making gnocchi without an egg. When I learned from Katie that Arcangelo also makes eggless gnocchi, I knew that must be the way. Just as importantly, these sources argued for making gnocchi not with a baking potato, but with another type: yukon gold. Yukon gold is a potato we know well. It is the primary potato we grow in our market garden for our vegetable customers. What is it, I wondered, about the yukon gold potato which makes it superior for gnocchi?

And this question led me to the single most critical piece of information about gnocchi making. Since most of us don’t grow potatoes, we don’t know much about them. In stores, they have meaningless names like “eastern” potatoes, whatever that means (nothing). But then I happened upon this magnificent chart describing the different textures and cooking characteristics of various potato varieties.

Source: Wood Praire Farms (www.woodpraire.com)

Source: Wood Praire Farms (www.woodpraire.com)

This chart shows that potatoes actually have TWO kinds of starch, not one, and that those who say that russet potatoes are more starchy than other types have no idea what they’re talking about. They have more of ONE of the types of starch, Amylose, which makes a floury or mealy potato, and less of the OTHER type of starch, Amylopectin, which causes the potato to hold together when cooked. Moreover, some potatoes are more MOIST than other and some are more DRY than others. When I thought about gnocchi making, where you want a dry potato that holds together when cooked, and then I consulted the chart to see what varieties fit that bill, right there I found the yukon gold potato (along with several other varieties one never sees in a store).

At once it all made sense. If one uses a baking potato, no matter how dry one gets it, it is a mealy, floury potato which will fall apart when cooked, and which therefore REQUIRES an egg to help the dough hold together, even if this leads to a heavier, rubbery result. With a yukon gold, however, it has enough amylopectin that it will hold together ON ITS OWN, without the need for an egg, and since it is a DRY type of potato, it will require minimal flour.

Hugely encouraged by this knowledge, I humbly realized that I had come full circle and that Marcella and Giuliano Hazan had been right all along. I made a batch using yukon gold, the dough came together easily and held together, and my first bite, though not quite at Arcangelo’s level, was the first bite of gnocchi I had ever made which could be described as weightless.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to immediately repeat my success. I had been using Italian flour and I got a bad bag which ruined my next batch. My third attempt was ruined with too much flour. Just as I thought I was getting somewhere, I began to question whether my one success had been a fluke. Everyone says to use as little flour as possible, but when I used as little as possible (about 100 grams for 800 grams potatoes), the gnocchi tasted too raw, too much of straight potato, and they weren’t weightless.

But then I had my final epiphany. Rereading Giuliano Hazan’s recipe for the hundredth time, I gave adequate attention to a phrase I had passed too glibly: incorporate flour until one has a smooth dough. I’ve been cooking seriously for 15 years, but what the heck does a smooth dough mean? How smooth? What should it look like? Feel like? This information is almost always left out. Every gnocchi recipe always stresses to NOT overwork the dough or they’ll be tough, just like the instructions for pie dough. But just like with pie dough, the invocation not to work the dough often leads to the opposite error: underworking the dough, being so scared to handle it, that the ingredients never become fully incorporated. I had figured this out years ago for pie crusts – that you had to work the dough enough to get a homogeneous mass that actually came together – but I hadn’t really applied it to the gnocchi dough. I had been working it so little out of fear of overworking that the dough really wasn’t homogeneous or SMOOTH as Giuliano says. On my next batch, I gently massaged in the flour until the dough was completely smooth and homogeneous. I boiled and tested one gnoccho and it still wasn’t right, so I increased the flour to 150 grams (about 1 and 1/6 of a cup) and the gnocchi suddenly and miraculously became ethereal. I realized that too little flour could be a problem too, even if the gnocchi held together, and that there was a magically sweet spot, which for me was 150 grams of flour, though I imagine this could vary widely depending on what potatoes one uses and how one cooks them (I was still boiling them in a HIGH salt water).

Of course, just when you think you’re home free, one finds disagreement over how long to cook gnocchi. Some say till they float. Marcella says till they float and then 10 seconds more (adding or subtracting a few seconds as needed). Huh? A second of cooking makes a difference? Others says to cook them for a minute after they float. One once again feels like one is in a house of mirrors. To make matter worse, how can you tell if they’re floating if you have water boiling violently and they’re being knocked all around? My breakthrough here came just several days ago, courtesy of Rachel of the blog Rachel Eats. She very sensibly points out that the gnocchi should cook at a gentle simmer (almost a poach), not a tempestuous boil like pasta needs. When I cook them that way, it is immediately obvious as soon as they float. For me, they cook in 1 minute and 45 seconds, a very short cooking time which to me suggests light and airy gnocchi.

How do you know you’ve made them correctly? When cooked they should be solid in appearance, not grainy or dissolving, but the should be ethereal. What do I mean by ethereal? Think of the most weightless pancake you’ve ever eaten, one that seems like a cloud, compared to heavy, dull pancakes. Likewise, think of the most light mashed potatoes, as opposed to heavy, dull ones. You should experience that same thrill when eating gnocchi.

There are still questions I don’t have a definitive answer to (does the salty water really matter?), but I’ve been able to repeat my success enough to feel confident offering my recipe as a likely candidate for successful replication. Ironically, gnocchi are very simple in one sense, but in another, they are one of the most challenging things I’ve ever learned to cook, and one of the dishes most difficult to teach through the written word. If ever there was a time to stand at the side of an experienced cook, this is it.

Potato Gnocchi

1) Bring 1 quart of water and ¾ cup salt to a boil. The Hazans do not call for this heavily salted water and perhaps someday I will eliminate it, but for now it works for me and seems in line with Arcangelo’s advice. The potatoes will not become saturated with salt unless their skins break, which has never happened to me. The extra salt seems to firm up their skins and keep them intact. Paula Wolfert, who has excellent advice about gnocchi and admits that she only recently mastered gnocchi after cooking for 40 years, recommends baking the potatoes instead. I have not had success with that method, but I can’t dismiss it and others might find even better success with the baking method.

2) Add 1 ½ pounds yukon gold potatoes, all of a similar size. If you can’t find yukon gold, you can try another plain boiling potato, but you’re taking a risk. I know it seems silly, but you could always mail order the yukon gold. Or grow them yourself! Cook the potatoes until tender, about 30 minutes, until easily pierced with a toothpick. I keep the heat on medium low and keep the potatoes covered to reduce evaporation of the water.

3) Immediately slice the potatoes in half and peel the skins. They are hot, but use a towel if you need to. They need to be peeled right away and passed through a food mill or ricer. Some swear by the former and others by the latter. I use the ricer. Rice or mill them onto a well-floured wooden board. Total flour needed will be 100 to 150 grams, including the flour on the wooden board. I measure out two bowls, one with 100 grams and one with 50 grams. I know I’ll need at least 100 grams, and then I use as much of the remaining 50 as I need.

4) Some people, including Paula Wolfert, recommend allowing the riced potatoes to cool. I haven’t found that it helps, but you might try it. I actually like to work the dough while it is warm. It feels softer and more pleasurable.

5) Add the remainder of the 100 grams and massage the mass gently into a soft, smooth, and homogeneous dough. It will be tacky but not sticky. It will be a beautiful gold if you use yukon gold. You won’t see flour and the dough will feel soft and lovely.

6) Cut off a piece, form it into a little gnoccho, and throw it in some boiling water. Check it when it floats. If it falls apart or still tastes too raw, add some or all of the additional flour. There is no simple answer here. Only practice and experience will teach you the right amount of flour. I’m still learning myself. According to Anna del Conte, the best gnocchi makers in Northern Italy use only 100 grams of flour for one kilogram (about 2 pounds) potatoes. For me, that’s not enough. For me the sweet spot is consistently 150 grams. I should add that I am using imported “00” Italian flour. I have no experience with American all purpose flour when making gnocchi, but that is what the Hazans recommend. I believe unbleached pastry flour would also be a good choice. Italian flour is more finely milled than most American flour, and the kind of flour you use will affect how much you need. Only experience will teach you.

7) Once you are satisfied that the dough is right, cut off a tennis ball sized piece and roll into a snake, cutting the piece in half as needed to make it manageable. I like larger gnocchi and aim for a ¾ inch thick snake. I cut off 1 inch pieces and I DO NOT use a fork to make an impression on the gnocchi. The traditional argument is that the irregular surfaces of “forked” gnocchi catch sauce better, which I do not find to be true. Arcangelo doesn’t indent, and that is good enough for me.

8) This amount of dough makes about 50 gnocchi, depending on the size, which is 6 moderately sized portions. I only cook about one third of them at a time in 2 quarts of water seasoned with 1 tablespoon salt. Unlike pasta, which needs much more water to move around in, cooking a small amount of gnocchi in a smaller pot works well for me. Keep the heat at a steady, gentle simmer but not a rolling, tempestuous boil. For me, they cook in just under two minutes, which I take as a good sign that I’ve produced light and airy gnocchi. Heavy gnocchi take longer to cook.

9) Once they float I remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in the pan with their sauce, tossing gently, while I cook the remaining gnocchi. Once all are cooked, serve at once. Just as with pasta, gnocchi go down hill quickly and within minutes you’ll have a cooled, heavy mess on your hands. Really, gnocchi are at their best for 1 to 2 minutes after cooking.

10) Many people suggest that smooth or pureed sauces are best for gnocchi. Pesto and butter/sage are two classics. I disagree, however. Arcangelo’s amatriciana is perfect with the gnocchi. I’m not completely happy with my own amatriciana, but I am completely enamored of gnocchi with sausages, tomatoes, and cream.

11) To make this sauce for a full batch of gnocchi, brown about ¾ cup plain sausage in a little olive oil, and then add about 1/3 cup diced onion. Cook until soft and lightly colored, and then add about 1/3 cup chopped tomatoes (high quality canned are fine) and a knob of butter. Add a generous pinch of salt and cook until the tomatoes are reduced and broken down, about 5 minutes. Add a moderate glug of cream and reduce until moderately thick. Remove from heat.

12) As the gnocchi are done, toss gently with the sauce. When all the gnocchi are done, plate at once and garnish with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.

My very own gnocchi sauced with sausage, tomatoes & cream

My very own gnocchi sauced with sausage, tomatoes & cream

In pursuit of gnocchi at Barboursville

As I’ve written before, I am obsessed with gnocchi, both because perfectly made gnocchi are heaven on earth and also because making such gnocchi has eluded me. And so I was delighted to learn that a chef I admire would be offering a class on gnocchi. Desperate to master the arcane secrets of gnocchi making, and curious to see how someone else approaches the art of teaching cooking classes, I eagerly signed up. Sweetening the deal was the fact that the class would be offered at Palladio restaurant, where Melissa Close is executive chef, and which is part of the Barboursville wine estate near Charlottesville, VA. I’ve loved Virginia since my first road trip there late in high school. My wife and I got engaged at a B&B in Virginia, climbed Old Rag mountain together, and dined at Palladio restaurant during the height of our courtship. But it had been 12 years, and I was due for a return visit. My first stop was Front Royal, having received a tip that there was an excellent coffee roaster and barista in town. I wasn’t disappointed. Happy Creek Coffee and Tea offers excellent espresso drinks and properly frothed milk from a beautiful, full-manual espresso machine with a pull lever (as in “pull a shot”). A coffee shop which also roasts its own coffee is a beautiful thing. I didn’t see much else in Front Royal that would draw me back, but Happy Creek was worth a detour. happy creek copy Heading south from Front Royal on Rt. 522 offers an exquisite and idyllic drive, running parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. This part of Virginia offers a landscape both aristocratic and agricultural. One sees meticulously maintained farms, mostly raising Black Angus cattle, but as the Virginia wine industry continues to grow, more and more lovely vineyards grace the landscape, comprised of rolling hills and soft meadows framed by the graceful Blue Ridge mountains. IMG_5452 Just when I thought the day couldn’t get better, it did, as I passed a sign for the tiny hamlet of Little Washington, home to one of this country’s most prized restaurants: The Inn at Little Washington. The restaurant’s reputation precedes it, but though I knew of its general location in this part of the state, I never imagined I’d practically run right into it. Having a little time to spare, I made a U-turn and followed the signs for town. I was delighted to find not only the inn and restaurant but a kitchen garden to provide the restaurant with produce. Although it was mid-October, the garden had fall peas in flower and the threat of frost was nowhere near. Although I’ve never dined or stayed at the inn, a return trip has become a high priority.

Kitchen Garden of the Inn at Little Washington

Kitchen garden of the Inn at Little Washington

Another hour or so south and I arrived at Barboursville. I had arrived several hours before the class to taste through the estate’s wines. Although wineries on the East coast sadly often have more to do with tourism than producing first-rate wine, Barboursville is seeking to be an exception. Its wines, under the management of winemaker Luca Paschina, frequently distinguish themselves and Barboursville is a leader in the attempt to make Virginia a legitimate and respected wine-making region. IMG_5461 Unfortunately, the tasting, which consisted of about a dozen wines, far too many to make sense of at one sitting, was disappointing. The descriptions given by the pouring staff seemed based more on a memorized script than on any personal or deep knowledge of the wines. Although the wines were interesting and worthy of attention, the format and atmosphere of the tasting undermined one’s ability to seriously focus on the wines, and the whole experience reflected the sort of wine tourism that winemaker Luca Paschina and other serious Virginia winemakers decry, complete with the arrival of a mega-bus of tourists while I was there. I was a bit deflated, though I would love to taste these wines in a more appropriate setting. IMG_5463 Returning a couple of hours later for the cooking class, I was delighted to set foot in Palladio once again. Our meal there 12 years ago was memorable, and I admire chef Melissa Close’s emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients and her fidelity to Italian cooking as it is practiced in Italy. I was saddened that on this trip a meal at the restaurant wasn’t possible, with it being closed both the day of and day after the cooking class. IMG_5467 The cooking class was fun, and it was nice to be a student rather than an instructor for a change. Chef Close showed herself to be a kind and humble person and teacher, not the sort of arrogant, intense chef too often the norm in fine dining kitchens. We made both potato and goat cheese gnocchi, and several sauces to accompany them. The gnocchi were good, but not a revelation, and I didn’t find the magic bullet I so unrealistically had hoped to find. The recipe we used for potato gnocchi was a standard one (baking potatoes, flour, and egg), and the results were more homey than ethereal, which is often the case even in Italy. Of course, the gnocchi we ate were the result of the group efforts of the class, not the focused work of a highly trained chef, and I’m perfectly prepared to believe that the gnocchi Chef Close serves at Palladio surpass those we made that night. If only I could have tried them as a guest at the restaurant itself! And so, although the gnocchi didn’t meet my rather unrealistic and unreasonable expectations, I still highly recommend the restaurant and Chef Close’s cooking classes. A trip to Palladio is always time and effort well spent.

Gnocchi sauced with lamb ragu.

Gnocchi sauced with lamb ragu.

It was a great trip with both pleasant surprises and mild disappointments, but the search for gnocchi nirvana goes on. Rather than having discouraged me, it has redoubled my dedication to find the ethereal gnocchi of my dreams.

Melanzane alla parmigiana

IMG_1423Even though it’s feeling like fall, we still have some eggplant in the garden, and last month we served eggplant alla parmigiana at the restaurant. In the past, we’ve avoided calling it that on the menu because it conjures up an entirely wrong image of that dish based on the American version: heavy, breaded eggplant with saccharine tomato sauce and industrial mozzarella cheese. The Italian version, as usual, is much more appealing to us. Perfectly seasoned eggplant, light but substantial, coupled with a simple, bright tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil from the garden. Although the dish is called “alla parmigiana” (in the style of Parma) it is actually a dish from Naples. The origin of the name is lost to history. Some think it refers to the use of parmigiano-reggiano while others think it is a corruption of a word referring to shutters which are layer when closed, resembling the layering of eggplant in the dish. Personally, I like to think of it as a Neapolitan take on what they think the cooking of Parma is like. That is, it somewhat resembles lasagne, with its laying of rich but light ingredients. But the actual ingredients are totally Neapolitan: eggplant, tomatoes, and mozzarella di bufala. I actually like to add a little hot pepper as well. To me, it’s like a Neapolitan trying to be a Northern Italian but nonetheless showing his true colors at every step. In any case, the key to every dish with eggplant is finding a way to cook it so that it is savory and meltingly rich without being oily, since eggplant absorbs a significant portion of oil. Cooks deal with this in various ways. Some bake or broil it (not a fan of this one), but the traditional way is to fry it in a lot of oil, with the theory that eggplant will absorb less oil if fried in an abundant amount of very hot oil. I did this for years following the advice of writer Marcella Hazan, and it goes give delicious results. But it began to bother me that the eggplant was absorbing flavorless vegetable oil rather than flavorful olive oil. One could deep fry the eggplant in olive oil of course (a la Mario Batali), but one needs to be well-off like Batali to afford such a method. Since eggplant absorbs oil, I wanted the eggplant to absorb the most flavorful olive oil I could find without breaking the bank. The solution I came up with is to use enough olive oil to cook the eggplant but no more. For me, this means coating the bottom of a saute pan completely with olive oil, but only just. When I place the eggplant slices in in a single layer, they will absorb the oil and brown. When I flip them over and lower the heat, they will actually begin to release some of that oil and that helps brown the second side. This method produces beautifully browned, meltingly tender eggplant, which has absorbed just the right amount of highest quality, flavorful olive oil. The result is that when the eggplant is baked, there is no excess oil which needs to be drained off. The dish is meltingly tender but not oily at all. Traditionally, eggplant is salted and allowed to sit for a a half hour or so while the salt draws out bitterness from the fruit. I do this if I use old, store-bought eggplant. However, I’ve never found fresh eggplant from the garden to be bitter. I still pre-salt it most of the time in order to give the salt time to incorporate itself into the eggplant, but I sometimes skip it if short on time. Some people find that salted eggplant absorbs less oil. Even when made in this lighter style, this dish (like lasagne) is still very rich and substantial. We favor small, appetizer sized portions.

Melanzane alla parmigiana (Make 4 small appetizer portions)

1) Peel, slice, and salt (optional) a pound of eggplant, preferably garden fresh and without seeds. If salting, allow to steep for 30 minutes or so. Slices should be ¼ to ½ inch thick based on preference.

2) Dry off the slices if salted, and brown in a pan with olive oil (see note above). If the eggplant absorbs all the oil very quickly, add a little more. There should be just enough.

3) When one side is browned (about 5 minutes or so), lower the heat and brown the other side. If the pan is really dry and the eggplant is not releasing some of its oil, add a little more. After 5 more minutes or so, the eggplant should be meltingly tender. Taste and correct for salt, and then let drain on paper towels.

4) Using the same pan and any residual oil (don’t add more unless there’s none left) add about ¾ cup tomatoes (fresh or high quality canned), a pinch of salt, and as much hot pepper as you dare. Cook over medium heat until broken down, about 5 minutes. Taste for salt.

5) In a small baking dish, place a layer of eggplant, and add a little of the tomatoes, some parmigiano-reggiano cheese, a little sliced mozzarella (preferably di bufala), and a little basil. Repeat with a second layer of all ingredients. If you sliced the eggplant thin, you might have enough for a third layer, but we don’t like to go higher than that. You’ll need about 4 ounces mozzarella total.

6) Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes until bubbly. Run under the broil for a few moments, just enough to give a crust.

7) We serve it hot, but traditionally it is served only slightly warm. IMG_4774

The Scouring of the Shire

The Shire, painted by JRR Tolkien himself.

The Shire, painted by JRR Tolkien himself.

Among the numerous problems with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy (“They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25” according to Tolkien’s son Christopher), to me one of the most significant is the omission of the penultimate chapter of the trilogy: “The Scouring of the Shire”. In this chapter, Frodo and his companions have returned home after the defeat of Sauron. What they find there is an evil smaller in scope than the one they’ve just defeated though perhaps no less horrifying to them. The Shire, once a simple, agrarian community of hobbits with simple tastes and ambitions, has become an industrial wasteland, exploited by avaricious locals and dominated by outsiders. What had once been a place of careful stewardship and a recognition of limits has become a place viewed as a means to an end, a set of resources to be exploited, by both locals and outsiders with no long term interest in the health and prosperity of the land. Although Frodo and his friends ultimately drive out the usurpers, the chapter is a reminder of how quickly a healthy, beautiful place can be turned to ruin.

My family and I live just outside the emerging Marcellus shale belt of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and I think of “The Scouring of the Shire” whenever I think of the controversy surrounding fracking. I am concerned about the long term environmental impacts of fracking, particularly the accidents which inevitably happen in such an industry. But I am perhaps even more concerned about the underlying attitude to the land which fracking assumes: that our land and water are resources to be exploited rather than gifts to be protected and cherished.

The proponents of fracking argue that it is safe, creates jobs, and funnels money into rural regions desperately in need of economic development. I agree that it likely is safe, except for the inevitable accidents which one never expects and yet which seem to regularly occur, accidents whose consequences and sometimes irreparable, no matter how much money is thrown at them. And it certainly creates jobs, at least in the short term. And certainly rural places are in need of economic development. Yet, it seems to me that many of these arguments are smokescreens, positive PR for an industry motivated by the same thing that motivates most economic activity: greed. Ultimately, those who will benefit most from fracking are not local landowners and local communities, but the companies doing the fracking, companies who have no long term interest in the places where they now do business. At bottom, their interest is purely economic, whatever their PR might argue to the contrary. The proof of this is that if a well dries up or doesn’t perform, the company packs up and leaves, care for the local community suddenly evaporated.

Even if one could predict a future in which fracking has no negative environmental impacts, I would still be opposed because of the attitude to the land which fracking depends on. Long before the term sustainable came into use, proponents of agriculture practiced with care talked and wrote of “permanent agriculture”, agriculture which could go on indefinitely. Their vision was not for the short term profit of the next quarter or even next decade, but for the flourishing of generations to come. They knew that agriculture which undermined its ability to perpetuate itself was a kind of economic and cultural suicide. Yet, fossil fuel extraction represents such an economic suicide by its very nature. The very essence of fossil fuel is that it is not permanent, that it is the using up a finite resource, no matter how abundant it may appear. It is temporary by its very nature. To my mind, our relationship to the places we inhabit and the economic activity which allows us to survive and even thrive in them, ought to be based on activities which are permanent. Agriculture, properly practiced, is just such an activity. When fracking companies argue that fracking is good for agriculture because it enriches farmers and allows them to stay on the land, I don’t know if I want to laugh or cry. If frackers really cared about the economic health of local agricultural communities, they would buy local agricultural products and pay a premium for them so that farmers can actually make a living farming. They would preserve farmland and oppose thoughtless and ugly development. Likewise, if they really cared about local jobs, they would create jobs that are stable and lasting, not which have an inevitable expiration date. It is astounding and sad to me that a region like Northeastern Pennsylvania, still suffering from the boom/bust cycle of coal would so quickly jump on another fossil fuel bandwagon, destined to repeat the same pattern experienced decades ago.

As in the Shire, what is at stake here is how we view our relationship to the land we inhabit. As in the case of the Shire, we have invited into our region outsiders with no intention of staying for the long term. We have been seduced by short term profits to the neglect of our long term environmental and economic health. I am deeply grateful that my family and I live just outside the Shale belt because though I like to believe we would refuse the economic gains of drilling on our land, I know the temptation would be great. I am certainly in no place to judge those who have allowed drilling on their land. There are myriad reasons why such a decision might make sense in a particular situation. My concern is not with individual landowners’ choices, but with an attitude which has no long-term commitment to a place, but views our land not with an eye to stewardship but an eye to exploitative profit. 

Frodo and his friends, fresh from their defeat of Sauron, knew the power that lay in their hands. I wonder if we can claim that same sense of empowerment, and work to replace the temporary benefits of fracking with the more permanent benefits of sustainable agriculture and other sustainable economic activity? 

Gelato, at last

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The past few weekends we’ve been serving hazelnut gelato at the restaurant. It’s been a long time coming. Although we’ve been making and serving sorbet since the beginning, gelato is much harder to make without large-scale equipment, and this is the first time we’ve been pleased enough with the result to serve gelato at the restaurant.

Gelato is one of the great culinary treasures of Italy. The way gelato differs from ice cream speaks volumes about how Italians think about food. For starters, in Italy gelato is made every day. It doesn’t sit in a freezer somewhere for days or weeks but is made and consumed fresh. Although it is sometimes perceived as being more rich than ice cream, it is actually less so, being made with more milk and less cream than American ice cream. Finally, gelato is kept frozen at a higher temperature than American ice cream, keeping it softer and spreadable. In Italy, the tool one uses is not an ice cream scoop, but a sort of spatula.

The problem with making gelato at home or on a small restaurant scale is that the machines made for that purpose take a long time to freeze the mixture, about 20 to 25 minutes, more than twice as long as professional machines. This longer freeze time creates the potential for the fatal flaw of homemade ice cream, ice crystals, ruining the silky and luscious texture of properly made gelato. All of our earliest attempts to make gelato were doomed for this reason. We also noticed that the high cream content of our mixture (usually 50/50 milk/cream), left a greasy film on the dasher and in our mouths.

And so we consoled ourselves with making water-based sorbets, which aren’t ruined by an icy texture and don’t get greasy from fat. And thank god we could always make a trip if we were really desperate to Capogiro in Philadelphia (the only gelateria in the US we know of that makes and serves it right).

But a few months ago we acquired two new books which we desperately hoped (rather than expected) might help us in our pursuit of the elusive goal of small batch gelato: The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, and Making Artisan Gelato by Torrance Kopfer. Although neither book is perfect and both flawed by outrageous flavors we have no interest in (parsley gelato, anyone?), both have helped us unlock the keys to making gelato at home. Here are some things we’ve learned:

1) At home, custard-based gelato is more successful. Ice cream without eggs (aka Philadelphia style) has never come out without an icy texture. Because of our pursuit of simplicity, our favorite gelato flavor is fior di latte (made with sugar and milk only), and we spent a lot of time trying to make egg-free gelato, but we’ve finally concluded it’s just not possible.

2) All instructions call for heating and then cooling the mixture, but we’ve found that chilling for a few hours is not enough. An overnight rest in the fridge does wonders for the texture of gelato and for reducing iciness. The longer it ages the more stable it becomes, which improves texture.

3) In Kopfer’s book, he recommends putting the custard mixture through the blender before mixing in the cream, and we’ve found this to make a big difference. Somehow the fats become more evenly distributed, which helps overall texture.

4) We settled on Kopfer’s suggestion of 2 parts milk to 1 part cream. This has eliminated the greasy phenomenon.

With these principles in mind, we started with one of our favorite gelato flavors and one of the most important in Italy: nocciola (hazelnut). Although ideally one would purchase hazelnuts imported from Piedmont, we actually made do with store-bought, pre-chopped hazelnuts. Can’t wait to take it to the next level with proper, imported nuts, but it’s good to know that store-bought nuts will still produce very good results. Our recipe is only mildly adapted from Kopfer’s book, and it is with immense gratitude and excitement that we share it here:

Hazelnut gelato (adapted from Making Artisan Gelato by Torrance Kopfer)

1) Roast 225 grams (1.5 cups) hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, and then grind into fairly fine meal in a food processor. This can be overdone, so experiment. On our machine, we run it for 20 seconds.
2) Heat 3 cups milk to 170 degrees, stirring constantly once it’s above 140 degrees.
3) Remove from heat and stir in the ground nuts, return to low heat and stir constantly for about 10 minutes, making sure the temperature doesn’t go much above 170 degrees.
4) Remove from heat, cover, and allow to steep for one hour or a little more.
5) Strain out the nuts, add 100 grams (1 cup) sugar, and reheat the milk mixture to 170 degrees. Remove from heat.
6) With an electric mixer, beat 4 egg yolks with another 50 grams sugar until pale yellow and thickened, just a minute or two.
7) Temper the egg mixture by slowly drizzling in a little hot milk and mix thoroughly. Once a fair bit of milk has been added, you can add the rest more quickly, and then return the whole mixture to medium heat, and stir constantly until the mixture reaches 185 degrees. Remove from heat and add ½ teaspoon vanilla extract.
8) Process in a blender for just 30 seconds or less, and then pour into a bowl or pot and add 1 cup cold cream. Stir well and place in a sink of cold water to chill the mixture quickly. After 15 minutes or so, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight.
9) Freeze in your ice cream machine (I chill the dasher in the freezer beforehand and cover the open lid with an ice pack to keep everything cold).
10) Place the gelato in a pre-frozen container and let it slightly harden in the freezer for two or three hours.
11) The next day the gelato will be much harder, but still tasty.

Return to the Farm

Every summer for the past six years, we have moved from our on-campus apartment at the boarding school where I was working to our farmhouse in rural Luzerne County. After about eight wonderful weeks of farming and operating our restaurant, we would pack up and move back to campus, only enjoying the farm on weekends and breaks as circumstances allowed. This routine had become deeply embedded and familiar to us, hard as it was to leave at the end of the summer. This year, we followed the same pattern, packing up our belongings and making the much longed-for transition to rural life. This year is different, however, because this year we’re not going back. This year, we’ve returned to the farmhouse to stay for good.

Although it was a long time in coming and the result of careful and thoughtful planning, I’m still somewhat surprised that six months ago I gave notice to my employer that I would be leaving what had been a perfectly decent, satisfying job with benefits and stability, including a free private school education for our children, all in pursuit of operating our small farm and restaurant full time. Many people certainly would think we’re nuts. Much to our surprise, though, that wasn’t the reaction we received as we began telling friends and colleagues several months ago. Instead, we were congratulated. Some said they were envious. Others commented on how important it was to pursue one’s passions. It was at that moment that I realized that we were doing something that many people wish they themselves could do: abandon the job which provides them comfort and stability in favor of pursuing something that feels more authentically like a calling or vocation.

In the end, vocation is really the best word to describe how we think about the change. I liked my former job. I wasn’t unhappy and will miss it very much. But ultimately, it began to feel like settling for our second choice. Since the first day 15 years ago that I began working on a farm digging potatoes in a mess of weeds, I’ve been hooked. Since then we’ve lived in cities and once almost leased our farm to another young couple, but even when moving in a different direction, something deep has always called out that farming is what we should be doing. In this way, committing to the farm full time feels like finally coming home.

Of course, our restaurant figures prominently in our work on the farm. We’re now open every Friday and Saturday by reservation only. But we see the two as part of one unified whole. We think of the restaurant as an outgrowth of the farm. We don’t even have name for the restaurant. It’s just Old Tioga Farm. The work is different on restaurant days, but both support the same mission: to delight our customers with food grown and prepared with love and the highest attention to quality.

Of course, both restaurant and farm are hard work. The summer has been one long blur of 14 hour days and exhaustion. This is our first blog post in four months, and we’ve had to put a temporary hold on most social engagements. But we’ve slowly gotten caught up, and when we greet guests at the restaurant and deliver beautiful produce to customers, there’s no doubt that such hard work is worth it.

As meaningful as our work raising vegetables and running the restaurant is, even that is only half the story because we still wouldn’t have made the decision to commit to full-time work on the farm if we didn’t feel strongly that it was best for our three young sons. In many ways we seemed to have it made. We lived on campus with other families with children. Our boys attended a first-rate private school for free. They had summers at the farmhouse. And yet, despite the appearance of having it all, we felt that something was missing. For starters, WE were missing, because we only saw our kids for about 3 or 4 hours a day during the week, with 3 PM dismissal and 7 PM bedtime. Our childrens’ teachers were spending more time with them than we were. And while this is no time to get into the pros and cons of parents staying at home or working outside the home, for us it felt wrong, that we were ceding to others the most primary formative influence on our children. With my wife having been homeschooled, we knew there was another way, one that might not be right for all or even many families, but which felt right to us. We wanted to bring our kids home, work from home, and have our home and life together the central focus of each of our lives.

Wendell Berry and, more recently, Shannon Hayes and others have written in defense of a home-based life, one in which the home is a place of constructive production and not merely a place of consumption. This vision of the home is deeply meaningful to us. And while we’re not ignorant or naive of the challenges of a life centered around the home, we feel like it is our vocation to work and raise our family in this beautiful and sacred place.

As I write, my former colleagues are beginning their annual faculty meetings in preparation for a new school year. In many ways it is sad to have given up that good life. But mostly it is freeing and liberating to commit to a way of life and work which feels like a vocation. Our family has entered into a new phase in its life. We have come home, and plan to stay.

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On Italian Coffee

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I am obsessed with coffee. More specifically, with Italian coffee (espresso) and the drinks based upon it. But it wasn’t love at first taste. Like many Americans, the first shots of espresso I encountered here at home tasted burned and bitter. But slowly, through travel in Italy and experience with my own machine at home, I came to experience the magnificent glory of a proper shot of Italian coffee.

Technically speaking, a shot of espresso is made by passing water through 7 grams of finely ground and tamped coffee at 195 degrees and 9 bars of pressure, resulting in a one ounce shot in about 20 to 25 seconds. Of course, this requires a machine of quality and sophistication. Italians simply call the drink “un caffè” (Italian for “a coffee”), and it is the foundation of Italian coffee culture.

Properly made, espresso’s character is expressed best by the concept of concentration. That is, instead of thinking of it as stronger, as many do, I think it makes more sense to think of espresso as more concentrated than American coffee. Just as a raisin represents the concentration of a grape, so to does a shot of espresso represent the concentration of coffee in a small, intense, and rich package. Like wine, espresso is rich in aromatics and flavor compounds, and the complexity of its flavor and texture is its chief virtue. Because of its unique extraction method, espresso also contains a layer of “crema” on top of the shot. This crema is the emulsified oils of the beans sustained in tiny micro-bubbles of air. It is one of the unique and divine properties of espresso.

In addition to a classic shot of espresso, Italians drink a wide variety of espresso-based drinks. Most famous, of course, is the cappuccino, a breakfast drink made with a shot of espresso and twice that amount of frothed milk. Italians inevitably think of this drink as a morning beverage, which only tourists order after noon. For later in the day, one can order a caffè macchiato, which is a shot of espresso “stained” (which is what macchiato means) with just a touch of frothed milk. There is also caffè corretto with a shot of grappa or other liquor. There’s also caffè lungo with extra water, caffè ristretto, with less, and caffè Americano, with a lot of water to satisfy American tourist tastes.

Once I had had a proper espresso in Italy, I wondered why it wasn’t made right in the US. Everyone seems to have the same high-quality, Italian-made machine. Why wasn’t it right? Once I bought my own machine and began to learn about proper technique, I realized that attention to detail at all steps makes a huge difference. Indifference or lack of knowledge anywhere along the way can derail the entire result. Beans must be of high quality, freshly roasted, and freshly ground. Water must have great flavor. Tamping and grinding must be done correctly. One’s machine must be meticulously cleaned to perform optimally. In Italy, being a barista is a serious profession, not a weekend or night-time job for college students.

But most importantly, one has to have experience of what good espresso is. Without a standard or target, one doesn’t even know what to aim for. This is especially obvious in the poorly frothed milk one finds at coffee bars in the US. Properly frothed milk should have the appearance and texture of wet paint, like a thick and luscious cream. This result is produced by the incorporation of tiny air bubbles into the milk as it is heated. Frothed this way, the milk can be poured into lovely designs in the cup, known as latte art. For reasons I don’t completely understand, milk frothed correctly also tastes sweeter. Poorly frothed milk, by contrast, look more like soap suds and lacks refinement and delicacy. It often tastes flat or burned. Because some people think milk with lower fat froths better, much of it is quite flavorless.

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Because few of us have easy access to a coffee bar making espresso well, our only option is making it at home ourselves. One can purchase a high-quality home machine with grinder for just under $1000, which seems like a lot to spend until one considers how much daily joy such a machine can bring. Although we’re about to upgrade at the restaurant to a machine more suited for commercial use, we’ve used the Rancilio Silvia for some time, which is one of the best machines for home use. We recommend it highly and would be happy to give recommendations for its use and maintenance. We use coffee beans from La Colombe in Philly and Caffe Fresco near Wilkes-Barre, both of whom do an excellent job. Two coffee bars which do a great job making espresso are capogiro (also a gelateria) in Philly and Square One, in Lancaster City.

Old Tioga Farm Vegetables

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We always try to explain to our guests that Old Tioga Farm isn’t simply a restaurant but actually a farm. In fact, to us the farm is the heart of it all, with the restaurant being one important expression of our commitment to sustainable agriculture. This model of a “farm-based” restaurant is the one that so inspired us in Italy, especially at Lago Scuro near Cremona. It’s a rare model in the US, but one which we find deeply meaningful.

The agricultural business we operate is a CSA offering vegetables and bread. CSA stands for “community supported agriculture”, a marketing model in which customers make a commitment to a particular farm for an entire season in exchange for weekly delivery of produce. It helps the farmer by giving him/her pre-sold product and it helps customers by giving them guaranteed access to produce of the highest and freshest quality. Most importantly, It is a marketing model that puts relationships and commitment at the heart of economic exchange. It makes the whole thing more personal.

Our CSA runs for 22 weeks, from early June through mid-October. Each week members choose which items they would like for that week.We deliver to homes and central pick-ups sites in Bloomsburg on Mondays and Wilkes Barre on Thursdays. Pick-up at the farm is also possible, even encouraged. CSA “shares” range in size from 5 items per week ($350) to 10 items per week ($600). We also offer bread shares (the same bread we make for the restaurant), for $110 for the 22 week season. CSA members also have the ability to make advance reservations at the restaurant. We follow organic and sustainable methods but are not certified.

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Growing vegetables commercially is very meaningful work for us. In a complex world with many problems and few simple solutions, growing food for local customers feels like one important step in the right direction, a step we can take to make the world a better place, if only in a small but concrete way. Buying produce from a local farm keeps money in the local community, ensures fresh, high-quality food for customers, keeps harmful chemicals out of our soils and water, and keeps more small farmers in business. It’s a win-win for everyone.

For more information on our CSA, contact us by e-mail: justin@oldtiogafarm.com

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Best Gnocchi in Rome

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I can make excellent puff pastry, fresh pastas of all kinds. I can cure my own guanciale, pancetta, and salami. Most of these were even successful on the first try. But I can’t make gnocchi. I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. It’s not hopeless, and I hope that someday I will finally master it, but so far it has eluded me. I don’t think I’m alone. The variety of recipes alone suggests the challenging nature of making gnocchi. Some people say to use baking potatoes, others say never use baking potatoes. Some call for egg. Others think that egg will ruin the gnocchi dough. This sort of disagreement says a lot. With only one exception, every dish of gnocchi I’ve ever made or been served in a restaurant is heavy and totally uninteresting to me. The exception are the gnocchi all’ amatriciana served at Ristorante L’Arcangelo near the Castel Sant’ Angelo in Rome. L’Arcangelo is operated by Arcangelo and Stefania Dadini. I first learned of the restaurant from Katie Parla, who has been my mentor in Roman restaurant culture. You can download her Rome dining app here. L’Arcangelo is one of those restaurants which does certain things better than others, which I find utterly incomprehensible and unacceptable, but so it goes. Luckily, it does gnocchi right. Not only does it do gnocchi right, it does it better than any other place in Rome. This isn’t surprising since most Roman restaurants use industrially produced gnocchi. Honestly, the gnocchi at L’Arcangelo are the only gnocchi I’ve ever enjoyed eating.

The best gnocchi in Rome.

The best gnocchi in Rome.

I had always heard that gnocchi should be light and weightless, but I’d never experienced gnocchi like that. L’Arcangelo’s are. They offer the most delightful contrast of weightlessness and substance, just like a well-made pillow, to which gnocchi are sometimes compared. Not only are the gnocchi at L’Arcangelo the best in Rome, so is the all’amatriciana they’re sauced with. The sauce is made with guanciale and tomatoes, and though many places do it well, L’Arcangelo’s is the best I’ve had. The whole dish is perfectly seasoned, rich but moderately portioned. I think they’re the best thing I’ve ever eaten in Rome.

There are many tricks I can try in making my own gnocchi. Some bake the potatoes instead of boiling them to reduce moisture content. Arcangelo says he boils the potatoes with equal parts salt and water. Some day I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I have the gnocchi at L’Arcangelo to aspire to. Thursday is the traditional day to serve gnocchi in Rome, but Katie’s promotion of L’Arcangelo’s gnocchi have convinced him to serve them most days. You won’t see them on the menu, though. You have to ask. Tell him that you heard about his gnocchi from Katie, and he’ll take good care of you.

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