Nick Elmi’s touch of truffle elevates a humble favorite for the pope [video]

What would you cook up if you had the chance to serve dinner to Pope Francis? We asked some of the city’s top chefs to weigh in. Here’s what they said.

This is part three in a series.

Chefs love designing menu items centered around the much-lauded truffle, but it’s the truffle’s humble origin — buried deep underground, unearthed by man’s best friend and shipped across an ocean — that makes them so unique.

In South Philadelphia at Laurel on East Passyunk Avenue, Chef Nicholas Elmi took a break from his French culinary background to pay homage to his heritage in honor of Pope Francis.

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He chose one of his favorites, and a staple on Laurel’s menu since they opened their doors almost two years ago: fresh ricotta gnocchi served with truffle and pancetta.

Like most Italians, he didn’t grow up with truffles on the dinner table, but Elmi said that’s all part of Laurel’s approach.

“[We] take very humble ingredients and rather humble dishes, and try to elevate them, make them feel elegant, make them feel special,” he said.

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Elmi started with a little of olio verde, and a housemade black pepper pancetta. He added a little bit of chopped up garlic that was macerated in olive oil as the pancetta began to pop and crisp. 

“You gotta add the garlic at the right time, just so it gets toasty,” he said.

Elmi spooned in a heavy scoop of butter studded with flecks of black truffle just as the dish began to reduce. 

“I chose this dish because it’s one of my favorite dishes,” said Elmi. “Something that you love cooking is always going to be better. Also, it’s a very simple dish, very few ingredients. But done well, it comes out very nicely and rather elegant.”

Elmi sprinkled in a bit toasted sourdough once the gnocchi is plated “to add a little bit of crunch,” and topped it with freshly shaved black truffle. 

An obscene amount of fresh black truffle.

“We don’t really shy away on truffles,” he said.

While the truffle may be seen as decadent, its earthy flavor and humble origins make it a perfect pick for Pope Francis.

This is part three in a series

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