Zonfa and a surprising parmigiana

In L’Aquila, at Magione Papale, the chef presents a special risotto: when closing your eyes, it has all the scents of the aubergine-based dish

Ad occhi chiusi

Ad occhi chiusi "Parmigiana di melanzane", the extraordinary risotto by William Zonfa at Magione Papale in L'Aquila

William Zonfa is a cook from L’Aquila and had he served in the military service, like the rest of his family, he would have been a perfect grenadier. Instead, his cooking career and the sudden opportunity of replacing a colleague in Germany who was stuck at home, allowed him to dodge the military service thanks to the job abroad. Born in L’Aquila, with experience at Antonio Guida’s Pellicano in Porto Ercole, he would have never imagined opening in L’Aquila early in the spring of 2009, when he was not yet 28, the place that today everyone knows as Magione Papale , but which at the time was just a new building and enterprise.

Then came the unforeseen event that could have destroyed every ambition and dream. In the night between the 5th and 6th of April the earth trembled and so did the hotel. «Everything here was still standing, but the territory, L’Aquila and many surrounding villages were declared red zone. Everything stopped and was delayed one year». First service on the 8th July 2010. The Michelin star arrived already in December 2011.

Eight years later William is still there, with his macaron, his dishes, ideas and a strong critical sensibility. He draws the best from the territory, and enhances it in the two restaurants, the everyday one, Salone dei Granai, and the gourmet one, Magione Papale, open only in the evening. Here everything is presented with creativity, info at +39.0862.414983. So in Abruzzo, those who like culinary certainty choose Bandiera in Civitella Casanova and Villa Maiella in Guardiagrele. Those  preferring innovation refer to Niko Romito and Zonfa. What’s important, is knowing what you’re looking for, what you love. Giving skis to someone who loves swimming in the sea is pointless.

Wlliam Zonfa during a cooking demo

Wlliam Zonfa during a cooking demo

Early in August, a first course charmed me. It was very different in substance from what one could imagine from its name in the menu: Ad occhi chiusi "Parmigiana di melanzane" [literally: “Parmigiana di Melanzane” when closing your eyes]. The inverted commas do advice us that this is not the classic parmigiana. Plus there’s a first recommendation: when closing your eyes. Indeed, having your eyes closed, and using only your nose, you’d think you’re about to enjoy parmigiana. This will be the case, but in the shape of risotto.

I thank Zonfa for the recipe which I publish here, starting with the ingredients for 4 people: 4 kg of ripe red tomatoes; 300 g of Carnaroli rice; 100 g of grated Parmigiano Reggiano 36 mesi; 25 g fresh basil leaves; 35 g extra virgin olive oil and 25 g of butter; salt.

The welcome at William Zonfa’s table

The welcome at William Zonfa’s table

Method: Blend the tomatoes in a cutter and strain them overnight using a linen cloth so as to get, the following day, the tomato water. Make sure it’s clear. If not, strain again.

Cook the rice in the classic way, using hot tomato water. Once you have cooked the rice, remove it from the stove and thicken it with butter, olive oil, Parmigiano and finely chopped basil leaves.

For the fiordilatte gelato you’ll need 2 fiordilatte mozzarellas (I use those from the dairy factory in  Campo Felice); 250 g of fresh whole milk; 4 g of gelatine sheets and 3 g of salt

Method: pour the milk and mozzarellas cut into 4 pieces in a sauce pun. Simmer slowly until the mozzarella has melted. Strain again and add the gelatine sheet and the salt. Finally process in the paco jet.

Olive oil, yogurt and pink grapefruit, dessert by William Zonfa​

Olive oil, yogurt and pink grapefruit, dessert by William Zonfa​

For the powdered aubergines, start from 5 aubergines removing the top, then wrap them in tin foil. Bake them at 180°C for 35 minutes. Once cooked, remove the tin foil and centrifuge them so as to get just the liquid part. Reduce the latter in a saucepan on a moderate heat. Remove from the stove when the sauce is slightly thicker. Spread on the silpat and dry in the oven at 50°C overnight. Blend so as to make a powder.

Final composition: spread the rice on a plate, sprinkle the aubergine powder and place the fiordilatte gelato on top. Charming, I’ll add.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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