Semolina Gnocchi (Gnocchi alla Romana)

When oatmeal regularly serves as my main course for dinner and cottage cheese does for my #saddesklunch, you could say that beyond my love of creamy, I also have a thing for mushy. All manners of cooked porridge and soaked grains, muesli sludges and carb-based puddings have a place at my table. Sweet or savoury is good, and I like when they’re particularly stodgy—I like for my spoon to stand practically straight in my oatmeal, loosened only slightly with a pouring of cream.


I have a few bookmarks, then, on recipes for semolina gnocchi, or properly gnocchi alla Romana, because it is essentially a dish based on baked medallions of semolina mush. Having made ricotta gnocchi before, I know that “gnocchi” can mean more than ridged potato dumplings. Those ones that are easy to find and can be leaden and dense when you’re unlucky or pillowy soft when you’re batting 1,000. While I suppose you could bake potato or ricotta gnocchi in a sauce after they’re made, what’s unique about semolina gnocchi is that baking is part of their creation.



Once you’ve made a semolina porridge – probably the hardest part due to the constant stirring—you leave it to cool and firm up. The gnocchi are then formed, and they are baked until golden edges appear. They are more similar to making small cakes/medallions/fries out of cooked, cooled polenta that way. But the semolina does not firm up as much as polenta does. What you’re left with are dumplings that have a thin, crispy crust and a cream-of-wheat-like interior. Naked, more butter, or tomato sauce. I don’t think you can screw them up with how you choose to top them. The acid from a tomato sauce is nice, but the richness from butter makes them the indulgence you want on a cold night.



And in that respect, perhaps this post is a little late given the date on the calendar, but I am not one of those people who goes sockless in March. Having grown up in a climate where snow has been known to fall in June, I’m not giving up on warm, comfort food until I’m using my A/C.



Semolina Gnocchi
Apologies if what follows is confusing, but I pull from two sources when making this for myself, one from Jessica Theroux on Leite’s Culinaria and a Florence Fabricant/New York Times rendition I found on The Wednesday Chef. For the most part, they are quite similar, with the exception of the amount of butter and the way they are baked. Because I tend to eat my gnocchi with a brown butter and sage sauce, I follow the Culinaria ingredient list for the most part and use less butter in the gnocchi, but I add nutmeg like Luisa and do not top with breadcrumbs. If you followed Luisa by serving with tomato sauce, more butter in the gnocchi might be your thing. As for the method, I follow the Culinaria method up to the point of baking (the end of step 2), then Luisa’s for the baking (her step 4). This means that I start my dough with milk, nutmeg, salt, and semolina, adding the butter, egg, and cheese once it’s cooked. To bake, I follow Luisa and grease my pan, overlap my discs, then dot with more butter. I split the difference on baking temperature at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes. I like them just slightly crisp and brown.

For one serving of gnocchi, I use the following amounts. I have a scale, so measuring half an egg is not a problem for me. Luisa’s recipe uses only egg yolks, so you could use one yolk as a workaround.

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1.75 ounces of semolina
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt (heed Luisa’s warning about needing salt)
  • 1 ounce of parmesan cheese, grated, divided in half (about 2/3 for the dough, 1/3 for topping before baking)
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Approximately 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter (about 1/2 for dough, 1/2 for dotting tops)

As for the brown butter and sage, I would say I brown a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter, adding the sage leaves just as the milk solids start to turn brown. I use a six-inch pie plate for baking and serving myself the gnocchi. No need to dirty up another dish, so I just pour the butter over the gnocchi and insulate my lap with a tea towel or two. The added benefit is that they stay nice and warm.



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