CASEYMANIA: Gnocchi American (Idol) Style

welcome.jpgThis past January, something hot and sexy began creeping its way through the chilly winter snows in Idyllwild, California. Locals were struck with the highly contagious Caseymania, which is like Beatlemania but without the screaming hysterical teenage girls. Well, not in Idyllwild, at least. But to inhabitants of this tiny mountain town, it was close to the same thing.

The median age of the town’s 4,000 inhabitants is 47.2, so hysterical screaming might have been at a minimum, but instead, this all-American town offered up enduring and low-key pride. Casey Abrams is the town’s boy, they own him, they love him and they support him. Even now that he’s been “voted off”, their hope springs eternal.

“He gets to tour, bound to make upwards of a hundred-fifty thou,” you hear an old-timer say with the cantankerous certainty of a gold prospector. Poor Casey never stood a chance. He had three big strikes against him in the TV-blurred minds of the American Idol voters (them being tweenage girls).

casey_abrams.jpgStrike 1: He’s funny-looking.
Strike 2: He’s a ginger.
Strike 3: He’s undeniably talented.

Talented in the classic sense, not the pop idol sense, which is what AI is all about. The tweens wanted him gone as early as March 23 but the judges saved him (JLo knows a star when she sees one) and he lasted five more weeks. Still, Idyllwild was hoping for talent over hotness, perhaps a Ruben Studdard-style upset. (Studdard beat tween fave Clay Aikens in AI’s Season 2) Tweens be damned. Casey Abrams brought the hotness on the night of April 28 with his swoon-inducing farewell song: “I Put A Spell On You.”

The spell Casey cast over Idyllwild won’t soon be broken. The banner still hangs from one end of North Circle Drive to the other. The $40.00 bedazzled “Sexy Casey” and “Idol Wild” T-shirts still smile from the storefront windows of the curio shops that populate California’s self-proclaimed Enchanted Mountain Village. There are also $26.00 bottles of Casey Abrams Cabernet that, like the growling crooner, will only improve with age. Yes, the Casey Abrams industry is here to stay.

But no other place in town is as Caseymaniacal as Café Aroma. In a town where at least five joints claim to have “the best burger on the hill” Café Aroma not only lives up to its hype, it surpasses it. As their own website proudly boasts:

Idyllwild's funnest and funkiest fine dining establishment, Cafe Aroma is the hot spot in Idyllwild. The community of Idyllwild is comprised of entrepreneurs & worker-bees, hippies & church-goers, old school jazz cats & classical musicians, bellydancers & ballerinas. Cafe Aroma is the gathering place for everybody. A social club that feels like home...if your home was this cool.

Yes, the ambiance is unbeatable for a town this size, but it’s the menu that astonishes: Mussels Calvados, Duck Vin de Muscat, Linguini Cardinale!

lounge-1.jpgCafé Aroma doesn’t need the added publicity that Casey brings – the sizeable restaurant has always been packed – but it has embraced Casey warmly. They’ve known him since childhood. So it’s at Café Aroma where you found locals watching American Idol every Wednesday and Thursday night on the flatscreen hung over the bar expressly for that purpose. It’s also where you can order a dish named after the man of the moment: Casey Abrams Gnocchi Alfredo (recipe below). If you’re lucky you can eat your meal in the Casey Abrams lounge, a section of the restaurant with a plaque commemorating the crooner.

But don’t fret, there’s also the Herb Jeffries lounge. Jeffries, a long-time Idyllwild resident, was the star of “black westerns” like 1937’s Harlem On The Prairie. His last film, Calypso Joe, was released in 1957, so Idyll’s idols don’t seem to come but twice per century. But perhaps Casey Abrams, being from the information age, will lure others to the mountaintop sooner.

The Casey Abrams Gnocchi Alfredo is not the first time a star has had an influence over an Alfredo dish – silent-movie siren Mary Pickford, on a 1927 visit to Rome, stumbled upon Fettucini Alfredo and made the deliciously heavy dish (triple butter!) not only world-famous but a mainstay in all Italian restaurants past, present and future. But in spite of her celebrity, the dish’s creator, Alfredo di Lelio, retained the name.

In 1962, while filming Cleopatra in Rome, the late Elizabeth Taylor brought glamour to America’s humble chili with this simple note: David stop Please send me ten quarts of your wonderful chili in dry ice to 448 Via Appia Pignatelli stop Love and kisses, Elizabeth Taylor.

It was the telegram heard around the world. Imagine, she could have had caviar but wanted chili! Of course, it wasn’t just chili, it was Chasen’s chili. But David Chasen, owner of the L.A. celebrity restaurant of its era, did not name the dish after the ravenous movie star who made it famous.

gnocci.jpgGranted, in Idyllwild, the modification (from red to white sauce…and meatballs!) and renaming of the dish was due to Casey Abrams’s ulcerative colitis, a medical condition that caused headlines. The singer was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Hospital where, coincidentally, Elizabeth Taylor recently died. *Note: In spring of 1961, Elizabeth Taylor developed a case of pneumonia, which led to an emergency tracheotomy and worldwide talk of her impending death. The swelling of sympathy was widely thought to have influenced Academy voters, who awarded Taylor her first Best Actress Oscar.

Will Casey Abrams become as big a celebrity as Mary Pickford or Elizabeth Taylor? Will his well-publicized medical condition earn him the “swelling of sympathy” that garners an Oscar (or two)? Only time will tell. Jennifer Hudson was voted off American Idol early and she got an Oscar.

Regardless of what path his career takes, Casey’s huge here. He’s Idyllwild’s beloved son and his Idyll-fame may soon leap into the celebrity stratosphere if the rumors are true:

“Casey is going to perform at Café Aroma,” I’ve heard more than one resident whisper. Fun fact, or wishful thinking?

If Casey does come to his adopted home to sing for his supper, perhaps locals will give in and add hysterical screaming to the list of Caseymania symptoms. I know I’ll be screaming, yes, me, a man well beyond the tween demographic, the lone voice in the crowd, the consummate food fan.

“More gnocchi!”

Café Aroma, 54750 North Circle Drive Idyllwild-Pine Cove, CA 92549 – (951) 659-5212


Casey Abrams Gnocchi Alfredo
Courtesy of the Cafe Aroma

3 pounds russet potatoes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg, extra large
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup light olive oil

Boil the whole potatoes until they are soft. While still warm, peel and pass through ricer onto clean pasta board.

Boil 6 quarts water in a large pot. Set up ice bath with 6 cups ice and 6 cups water near boiling water.

Make well in center of potatoes and sprinkle with all of the flour. Place egg and salt in center of well and using a fork, stir into flour and potatoes. Once egg is mixed in, bring dough together, kneading gently until a ball is formed. Knead gently another 4 minutes until ball is dry to touch.

Roll baseball-sized ball of dough into 3/4-inch diameter dowels and cut dowels into 1-inch long pieces. Flick pieces off of fork until all dumplings are made. Drop gnocchi into boiling water and cook until they float (about 1 minute). As gnocchi float to top of boiling water, remove them to ice bath and continue until all have been cooled off. Let sit several minutes in bath and drain from ice and water. Toss with 1/2 cup light olive oil and store covered in refrigerator up to 48 hours until ready to serve.


4 pounds ground sirloin
6 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
6 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated parmesan, parmigiano-reggiano or romano cheese
6 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper

Mix beef and Worcestershire, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Roll meat into 1 1/2 inch medium-sized meatballs and place on nonstick cookie sheet or a cookie sheet greased with extra-virgin olive oil. Bake balls 10 to 12 minutes, until no longer pink. Put meatballs into stock pot with marinara sauce and simmer all day.



1 #10 can coarsely chopped Italian plum tomatoes
1 quart tomato juice
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a stock pot over medium heat. Add bell pepper, onion, and garlic and sautee until onion is translucent. Add chopped tomatoes and tomato juice then season with salt and pepper. Simmer all day.



6 cups heavy cream
6 egg yolks, whisked
1-1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
White pepper

In a large sautee pan, heat heavy cream and egg yolks together, stirring constantly. Add parmesan cheese, whisking to keep smooth until thickened. Season with white pepper to taste.


Once alfredo sauce is to temperature and consistency, add gnocchi and heat through. Plate gnocchi in alfredo sauce and top with 6 meatballs. Garnish with shredded parmesan cheese.


Eduardo Santiago is the author of the award-winning novel, Tomorrow They Will Kiss.