Dinner and a Show

Alfio and his Caesar salad. Is it common for most people to think their Dad as a rock star? Mine definitely has earned that status in his industry.

My father's restaurant career spans five decades and two separate countries. When he first set foot in a Philadelphia dining room he didn't speak the language and was starting again at the very bottom, as a bus boy. By the time he officially retired and closed the doors of the restaurant in Glenside that bore his name, there were a lot of regulars and friends that knew they would miss his table-side showmanship.

But my father is part of a generation that doesn't seem to know the meaning of retirement.

I can't be sure whose idea it was. Maybe it was my sister who asked, maybe it was my father who offered, but I can be very sure that he signed on more than willingly to appear at my sister's shop twice a month and bring his Caesar salad show.

The Caesar salad experience includes Alfio's show.

Alfio's Caesar salad was the winner of the Philadelphia Magazine's Best of Philly award for years not just because my father was one of a few that continued making the salad following the original recipe, but because of his table-side showmanship. His routine always included lots of playful banter, a bit of pepper mill juggling, sleight of hand, jokes, lots of charm. . . and an exceedingly large custom made wooden salad bowl.

I brought Dad into the studio to make some promotional photographs for my sister's store, and had him make his salad while I photographed some of the steps. There are lots of image options she can use for social media.

It's definitely worth short ride for anyone living in the Philadelphia area to come get some Caesar salad, meet the man, and taste what a Caesar salad should be.

Alfio is at Ana's Corner Shop on the last Friday and Saturday of every month from 11AM to 7PM. 3310 North Wales Road , East Norriton, Pennsylvania 19403

Gnocchi on the 29th

Gnocchi A bit more than a week ago, with the 29th of May looming ahead in the calendar, I had absolutely nutty idea that I should make gnocchi and observe a tradition from my childhood in Argentina: eating gnocchi on the 29th of the month.

Depending on who you ask, the tradition either stems from stretching grocery money as far as possible the day before payday or from an even older Italian tradition having to do with a saint. The way I remember it, you eat gnocchi on the 29th, put money under your dish, and prosperity will come to you. I am not much for superstition, but the tradition is a good excuse for spending a few hours cooking with family and then enjoying the fruits of your labor together.

So, how about making this an ongoing tradition? I think I might do this again next month. All it really requires is a few hours and a handful of cheap ingredients. I looked through a few of my cookbooks and found most recipes call for eggs. My copy of the CIA cookbook (Culinary Institute of America, not the intelligence agency) had an even sillier recipe that called for eggs, extra egg yolks, nutmeg, etc. My attitude is to keep things simple and basic. The most basic recipe is below:

Gnocchi Recipe

makes enough for 4

  • 1lb russet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour

I did say keep it simple, but ideally you need one semi special tool: a potato ricer. A sort of overgrown garlic press that mashes potatoes a nice even soft texture that will make for nicer dough.

Potato Ricer

Boil your pealed potatoes until they are just tender, pass them through the ricer while they are still hot (if you let them cool you will have a heck of a time doing this, as they'll get harder).

Riced Potatoes

Go ahead and pour out your mound of (now warm) riced potatoes onto your clean kitchen table. Knead the salt and the flour into the potatoes. More or less flour might be needed depending on the moisture of the potatoes, add the flour in slowly until the dough no longer sticks to your hands.

Cutting the gnocchi

Take a little bit of dough and roll it into a snake shape and then cut it into pieces about an inch long. A little bit of flour can be used to keep it from sticking to your hand, table, knife, etc.

Rolling the gnocchi

Now take the small pieces of dough and roll them with your thumb against a fork. This will give the gnocchi a curved, shell shape and a ridge decoration on the outside. Flour helps here also to keep the dough from sticking. I used a wooden tool that I believe is actually meant for grating ginger, but worked for my purposes really well.

Lay out your gnocchi on a clean towel directly on your table or on a cookie sheet. It helps to enlist help for the cutting and rolling steps, this is where most of the preparation time goes.

Drop the gnocchi into salted boiling water. When the pasta rises to the top the gnocchi are fully cooked. Scoop them up with a slotted spoon and into your favorite serving dish, add the sauce of your choice, toss together, and enjoy.

Oh. . . and don't forget to put some money under your dish!

Gnocchi in Rosa Sauce