In the Oltrarno district of Florence, streets tangle like spaghetti around Piazza Santo Spirito, a large square filled with tie-dyed hippies, art students and, from midday onwards, pungent wafts of truffle-scented air. Follow your nose and you will find, tucked into the corner farthest from the Basilica, an inconspicuous osteria with a claret-coloured interior. If you ask for whatever it is that smells so good, the waitress will smile and bring you gnocchi gratinati.
It’s a homespun recipe that breaks every rule known to restaurant man. The components—gnocchi, cheese sauce, breadcrumbs and truffle oil—make for vanishingly little variation in colour or texture. There isn’t even a garnish. Yet this is one of the most toothsome, memorable dishes in town: so good that I’ve booked a weekend there just to eat it again.
It arrives on old-fashioned blue-and-white crockery, with its chestnut-brown lacquered surface still bubbling. Just beneath lie neat, inch-long dumplings—unctuous and yielding, though without a trace of sogginess. But the star turn is the sauce. Satiny, aromatic and soothing, it’s made by melting together a precise ratio of four classic Italian cheeses—sweet dolcelatte gorgonzola, Parmigiano, provola and Brie-like Alpino—loosened with whipping cream and seasoned with white pepper.
Once this heart-stopping mix is ready, the gnocchi meet the sauce in a shallow gratin dish, finely milled breadcrumbs are sprinkled on top and the whole thing is browned under the grill. Just before the plate is brought to your table, truffle oil is drizzled across the top: a final touch of decadence, and an irresistible temptation for the next round of customers. ~ Kassia St Clair