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Favorite Dish: Clay Conley's House-Made Gemelli Nero Squid Ink Pasta From Grato

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Palm Beach restaurateur Clay Conley's Grato opened just a few weeks ago, and already people are converging in droves for a taste of the famous chef's Italian-style dishes cooked in a wood-fired oven. Specifically, that includes several specialty pizzas and a half-dozen handmade pastas.

"I've always made my own pasta. That's something I've done for a long time and has been a part of each menu at every establishment I've worked," the James Beard House-nominated chef says. "But this is the first time I've made extruded pastas. The dough is different, and the process is definitely more time-consuming, but I think the final product is worth it."

And it is; at Grato, Conley prepares his handmade pastas with all-organic flour, letting them dry for at least 24 hours before they're cooked to order and plated with the requisite sauce. For now, hand-cut and extruded pastas include a mint and herb penne, squid ink or saffron gemelli, and paccheri — but will feature a rotating roster of additional favorites like pappardelle, tagliolini, and agnolotti moving forward.

Conley's new rustic Italian eatery is located along West Palm Beach’s up-and-coming Dixie corridor, just south of the Southern Boulevard bridge and only a few blocks north of Kitchen (another neighborhood eatery that opened several years ago). It is Conley's third establishment following his well-known Palm Beach restaurants Buccan (a modern American grill that opened in 2011), Imoto (the intimate, Asian-focused extension of Buccan that opened in 2012), and the Sandwich Shop at Buccan, which opened in 2014.

While the Grato menu won't change daily — as it does at Imoto and Buccan — expect dishes to rotate with seasonal flavors and produce, says Conley. That means a spring or summer herb penne may become a sweet potato linguine or butternut squash ravioli come fall.

Of the half-dozen pasta dishes that have debuted on the Grato menu, the squid ink gemelli nero is one of Conley's favorites, a spiraling, corkscrew-shaped pasta named for the Italian word for "twins."

To make the pasta, Conley uses aromatic squid ink to color the classic egg-based pasta, lending the dish its silky black hue. While squid ink itself may smell strong, the resulting noodles are relatively neutral in flavor, paired up against a warm yellow saffron gemelli to give the dish an extra hint of flavor.

In Italy, it's considered traditional to pair the squid ink pasta with seafood, as they are with this dish, drenched in a zesty puttanesca sauce accented with ingredients like green olive, which play well with a subtle hint of brininess. Then, to give it his own twist, Conley adds wine-marinated chunks of tender octopus to the dish, and finishes with a dash of olive oil-toasted bread crumbs for a crunchy contrast against the tender tubes of homemade pasta.

"It's the perfect accompaniment to the squid ink pasta," says Conley.

Grato is located at 1901 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach. Call 561-404-1334, or visit gratowpb.com.

Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.

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