Cicchetti’s food philosophy is all about selecting the finest seasonal ingredients and allowing them to shine. And the new menu is a celebration of all the finest Italian winter produce.
A highlight of the seasonal celebration features Italy’s most treasured winter ingredient – the white truffle.
Fresh from Alba in Piedmont, northern Italy, the white truffle, harvested in November and December, is highly prized for its unique aroma and taste.
I was recently lucky enough to be in Alba for the annual white truffle festival. With whole streets lined with stalls and alfresco menus full of prized white truffles, the deep and dizzying scent filled the entire town.
They take truffles seriously in Italy. And so does Cicchetti.
San Carlo’s executive consultant chef Aldo Zilli has created a brand new dish to showcase the white truffle at its best: gnocchi with white truffle pesto, available as a special menu item exclusively at Cicchetti in Manchester.
“For me, the best cooking combines great simplicity with great taste, and for an Italian, eating seasonally is a way of life, it means you’re eating fresh ingredients at the height of the flavour,” said Aldo, who came to Manchester to launch the new menu.
“It doesn’t get much better than white truffles, the ultimate Italian winter ingredient. The flavour is so special it can be shaved over your dish to take it to another level.”
To show us exactly how special, Aldo demonstrated how to make his new gnocchi dish. He made it look simple. The result was spectacular.
“The ingredients are only potato, nutmeg, salt a little bit of olive oil and salt,” said Aldo. “But the potatoes must be dried in the oven otherwise you’ll have a soggy result.”
Aldo riced the potatoes, added seasoning and nutmeg, then made a well in the middle and broke an egg into it, adding a flourish of olive oil.
He whisked in the egg and added a paste made of roasted celeriac, sage and truffle cream – “because it’s me, and I always have to add something a bit extra.”
You don’t have to knead it like pasta, he explained. But incorporate enough flour so it doesn’t stick to your hands.
The chef cut a slice off the ball of dough, and rolled it out into a sausage shape.
“It won’t work if you have too much flour on the surface,” he said, as he gently rolled the dough with the tips of his fingers, and then swiftly cut each into a gnocchi sized piece and rolled each between his thumb and a fork to make the signature shape which picks up the sauce.
“To go with the gnocchi we’ve made a creamy mascarpone white truffle sauce, like a pesto. It’s a nostalgic dish for me, it reminds me of my mum,” he said.
The resulting dish was rich and creamy, the little pillows of gnocchi dressed for the occasion with shavings of punchy fresh white truffle.
“That’s £3000 a kilo!” said Aldo about the eye-wateringly expensive fungus.
The gnocchi isn’t the only new dish on the menu to use winter truffle. Creamy buffalo mozzarella comes with grilled roasted squash, pumpkin seeds, chilli and a sweet truffle honey (£6.95).
And other new dishes also celebrate the best regional Italian winter ingredients, often sourced from artisan suppliers and produce markets in Italy.
Smoked burrata with Torpedino tomatoes is served in a smoke-filled cloche for a bit of theatre at the table (£8.95).
Cavatelli pasta comes with sausage and borlotti beans and is served in a clay pot (£8.95), while gnocchi Gorgonzola arrives in a baked Parmesan basket (£8.95), as does risotto with porcini mushrooms (£9.95).
A snow-white, flaky fillet of cod is served with warming nduja Calabrian soft spicy sausage and lentils (£11.95), while a wintry risotto comes with pumpkin, squash and Parmesan, served inside a cute mini pumpkin (£9.95).
And for pudding, there’s a Sicilian brioche ice cream sandwich which uses their own freshly baked brioche and vanilla gelato made in-house (£8.95).
It’s big enough for two. If you can bring yourself to share, that is.
The new winter menu is available now at Cicchetti, King Street West.