A recipe for semolina gnocchi

Last week was, without a doubt, a big news week for the US, but it was also a big news week in my little world. I went back to the office for the first time since early March and commuted by train as if it was 2019.

Masks are mandatory in the office, but colleagues have legs again and I don’t have to keep asking, “Can you hear me now?” or apologizing for long awkward silences after forgetting to unmute myself.

I also sent my absentee ballot for the presidential election off on its brave journey back across the Atlantic. Go little ballot! Go!

The plan at work is to return to the office in stages with most of us only going one day a week until the end of November. Of course, my one day last week was Thursday, and then on Friday, a new ordinance was passed in the region of Lazio requiring masks at all times outside. Numbers are rising and the hope is to prevent another lockdown. We’ll see what happens and if my once a week commute will continue.

I also made semolina gnocchi for the first time last night and it was delicious. The quantity of milk and semolina listed below could maybe use some tweaking as I was stirring a clump of dough instead of a smooth liquid but the end product was so tasty that I’d do it again in exactly the same way.

The word gnocchi has become synonymous with the potato and flour version but the semolina version has a much longer history, dating back to Roman times. It’s Roman as in Roman empire Roman and not in reference to the modern city of Rome. The potato version is a much later invention as the potato itself did not make it to Europe until Spanish conquistadors carried it back from Peru in the 16th century.

We topped our gnocchi with a delicious Czech-style goulash that Roberto made with beef and spiced heavily with smoked paprika, but I think any tangy tomatoey topping would do.

The recipe for semolina gnocchi is often attributed to the Italian region of Piedmont that borders France and Switzerland in the north, and the Swiss gruyère cheese was an ingredient in the early 20th century when cooking in a French-style was in vogue. I didn’t use it but it’s hard to imagine going wrong with baked gruyère cheese.

I wonder how the ancient Romans topped it. Fish sauce?

Semolina gnocchi

Gnocchi di semolino alla romana

Makes 2 hearty servings

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 150 grams of semolina (in cup speak the internet tells me that this is 1/2 cup plus 3.5 tablespoons)
  • About 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 egg yolks
  1. Bring the milk and salt to boil in a large saucepan or heavy-bottomed pot.
  2. Add the semolina slowly while stirring constantly over medium heat.
  3. It may turn into a big glue ball mess (it did for me) but keep stirring or shoving it around the pan for about 10 minutes. Be very careful to keep the bottom from burning.
  4. Remove from the heat and mix in about 3 1/2 tablespoons (50 grams) of butter.
  5. Stir in 3 heaping tablespoons of grated cheese.
  6. Add the yolks one at a time and blend.
  7. Turn out onto a clean surface and flatten into a thin, single layer that is about 1 centimeter thick and let cool completely for about 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  9. Use a small cup or round cookie cutter that is about 2 inches in diameter to cut out small rounds from the flat semolina. Save the scraps.
  10. Butter a baking dish, line with the semolina scraps, and then sprinkle with grated cheese and dot with bits of butter.
  11. Lay the semolina rounds on top. They should overlap slightly.
  12. Top with more grated cheese and dots of butter.
  13. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the top starts to brown.
  14. Serve with something tangy and tomatoey like tomato sauce or in our case, Czech goulash.

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