Wednesday, December 7, 2011

There's Fried Dough, Then There's Gnocco Fritto

Gnocco Fritto at Tasting Kitchen, Venice Beach, CA
What could possibly be wrong with fried dough?  Nothing, obviously.  Fried dough is delicious, particularly when done in a savory Italian way as with my favorite pre-Italian meal snack, gnocco fritto.

Gnocco fritto literally translates into “fried dough” or “fried dumpling” depending on who you ask.   But the reality of this fritter is far more nuanced that the straightforward name suggests. 

Dining at Tasting Kitchen in Venice Beach last weekend, gnocco fritto turned up on their ever-changing menu under the charcuterie section. Here the pastry is a hard-shelled 2-inch square dumpling, lightly salted on the outside with an airy interior.  When bitten into or broken apart, the shell turned out to be a perfect vehicle for stuffing with the excellent prosciutto or creamy burrata that came alongside.  I might not have eaten the dumplings alone, but I could have used a few more to scrape up the last of unctuous cheese off the serving platter.

Gnocco Fritto at Bianca, New York City
Tasting Kitchen’s version was, well, tasty, but my favorite interpretation of gnocco fritto is from Bianca in New York City, a restaurant that specializes in foods from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, a region that prides itself on gnocco fritto.  At Bianca the yeasted, fried dough squares arrive puffed up and golden brown.  Upon biting into these little fried pillows, the fitter collapses into layer up layer of luxurious pastry.  It is a savory, Italian version of French puffed pastry.  And when the dough gets smeared with the restaurant’s stringy stracchino cheese or topped with a slice of salami, the pastry melts in the mouth, cheese, meat, and fritter dissolving together in a sigh of fried dough satisfaction. 

There’s fried dough, and then there’s gnocco fritto.  With a side of cured meats and rich, creamy cow’s milk cheese, what’s not to like?

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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