UPDATE (Dec 2017): Unfortunately in recent years the gnocchi at L’Arcangelo have declined. It’s still worth a visit, but on several trips the past two years, they were nothing special. I’m very sad but hopeful that some day they’ll return to their former glory!
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.
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. This 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. Someday 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.
P.S. a little update on someday…