“Gelato is a magic food,” says Stefano Biasini, the baritone-voiced gelato master at Gran Caffe L’Aquila. The Italian chef designs savory flavors — he calls them “gastronomic” gelati — for the Rittenhouse restaurant-cafe: crumbly Parmigiano-Reggiano gelato paired with salumi, granita-like bacon gelato for carbonara, and creamy truffle-infused gelato for veal-stuffed agnolotti. The founding partner crafted the à la mode presentations “so you have a shock between the hot and cold.”
But Biasini excels at straightforward sweet stuff, too, and he’s whipped up a flavor that’s tailor-made for this year’s Riviera Holiday-themed Flower Show.
He started by selecting ingredients from Liguria, a.k.a. the Italian Riviera, a crescent-shaped region that hugs the Ligurian Sea about 100 kilometers northeast of Monaco. Of its specialties — the most famous of which is Genoese pesto — Biasini decided on chinotto flower and a fruity Ligurian extra-virgin olive oil that Gran Caffe owner Riccardo Longo describes as the “Champagne of olive oil,” for its protected-origin (D.O.P.) status.
The white chinotto flower, pronounced KEE-notta, blooms on a small, slow-growing tree that produces a bitter orange. The fruit’s distinct flavor is found in many chinotto sodas that deliver gin-and-tonic bitterness. “It’s sort of like our version of Coca-Cola,” Longo says.
Gran Caffe imported chinotto blossom extract, which Biasini infused into the olive oil. “The oil is perfect for the infusion, because it captures everything about the flowers,” he says.
Then he swirled the infused olive oil into a creamy gelato base flavored with Tuscan white chocolate. The result is a delicate, airy gelato with a hint of tartness and a clean, bright floral finish.
Biasini, 40, has been making gelato since he was 25. He moved to Philadelphia in 2014, after winning the Sigep Gelato d’Oro — Italy’s national gelato championship — and successfully obtaining an O-1 visa, reserved for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement. Before moving, he had operated Gran Caffe L’Aquila in his hometown until a massive earthquake in 2009 destroyed the city center. After relocating to the outskirts of the city, he was persuaded to move the restaurant stateside after he visited Philly and discovered our football team’s mascot aligned with his town’s rugby team (L’Aquila translates to eagle), right down to the color.
Aside from his gastronomic flavors, he also makes traditional gelati: amaretto, straciatella, coffee, pistachio, chocolate. But he enjoys the challenge of a theme.
“This Flower Show is great, because usually flowers are not the kind of ingredient you get to use for food, for eating. So it’s more interesting for me, the combination,” Biasini said. “For example, if you like hazelnut, I can prepare you a perfect hazelnut gelato and you always prefer this. But this is special. So for one week you can try something different — then we can go back to hazelnut, why not?”
Chinotto flower gelato, $4.90-$8.20 (cup or cone) through March 8 at Gran Caffe L’Aquila, 1716 Chestnut St., 215-568-5600, grancaffelaquila.com