or Gnocchi alla Romana
About the Recipe
Potato gnocchi is a beloved Italian staple, but after one too many disastrous stabs at making my own, I abandoned ship and instituted a restaurants-only approach to the dish, a policy that remained in place for years until last year when a plate of Italy’s original semolina gnocchi (also called gnocchi alla romana) served at a trattoria just outside Rome caused me to view the concept of the national dumpling in a whole new light. I was told that northern Italians were forming this cucina della nonna specialty from semolina-- a soft yellow durum wheat flour-- long before tomatoes, corn, and potatoes arrived from the New World. Baked instead of boiled, these custardy-within-while-crustily-golden-without delicacies --rich with milk, eggs, butter and cheese--are divine, a surprisingly different animal and infinitely simpler to prepare than their Johnny-come-lately, spud-centric cousins. I was hooked.
A cooking lesson later in the week showed me that making semolina gnocchi is child’s play. Hot, sticky, polenta-like dough is spread on a baking sheet and chilled. Traditionally, round gnocchi are then cut out with a cookie cutter, but I find makeing square ones using a pizza wheel or sharp knife to be quicker and more efficient as there are no leftover scraps to re-use or discard. Round or square, the dumplings are placed on a baking sheet, sprinkled with cheese and baked in a hot oven until sizzling and crusty-edged. Although semolina gnocchi are often baked shingle style, I prefer laying them flat as they bake more evenly and develop more crunchy, crispy bits which for me are the jewels in their crown. And for make-ahead cooks, once ready to bake, the gnocchi can be refrigerated for 2-3 days--or frozen for at least six months--requiring only heating and browning to serve.
Experiment with various seasonings -- thyme, rosemary or sage instead of nutmeg. As for toppings, the gnocchi pair well with traditional tomato, béchamel, Bolognese and mushroom sauces and virtually any pesto or meat ragout. This dish is winter-perfect but when the weather turns warm, they are divine served straight up with nothing but a cold and crispy green salad alongside.
SEMOLINA GNOCCHI/GNOCCHI ALLA ROMANA
Makes approximately 54 gnocchi
TIME: About 20 minutes active work time. 1 ½-2 ½ hours for chilling and baking.
This is a large recipe. It can be scaled down and/or extra gnocchi can be wrapped well and refrigerated for several days or frozen for at least 6 months.
6 cups whole milk
a scant ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 ¼ cup fine semolina
11 tablespooons unsalted butter, divided--8 tablespoons and 3 tablespoons--- cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing the pan
11 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Gruyere or a mixture of the two, plus approximately 3 ½ cups more for sprinkling.
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon fine sea salt or more to taste
½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper or more to taste
Bring milk and nutmeg to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat.
Off heat, whisk the semolina in a steady stream.
Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the semolina pulls away from the sides as a mass and a skin forms on the bottom of the pot, about 2-3 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in 6 tablespoons of the butter, the grated cheese, and egg yolks. Stir well between additions to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour the hot mixture onto a buttered aluminum foil-lined half sheet pan (approximately 18”x13”). If you don’t have an pan the right size, you can use multiple smaller pans or just spread a large piece of greased aluminum foil on the counter and form a rectangle approximately 18x12 on it.
Spread--preferably with an offset spatula--to an even thickness somewhere between (½ inch – 1 inch). Let cool completely. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 500 with rack in the highest position.
Use a sharp knife or pizza wheel to cut the semolina into 2-inch squares.
Lay the cut gnocchi at least 1/2-inch apart on a parchment-lined sheet pan or baking dish.
Dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and sprinkle with approximately 1 tablespoon of grated cheese per gnocchi. Bake until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes Pour off any excess butter and serve, 3 per person, optionally accompanied by quick tomato sauce or another sauce of your choice.
QUICK TOMATO SAUCE
Makes approximately 5 cups of sauce
Time: About 15-20 minutes
1 large onion, chopped
large pinch red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 28-ounce cans chopped tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
6 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons fine sea salt or more to taste. Don’t undersalt
Large pinch of sugar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup roughly chopped basil
In a large skillet sauté the onion until golden. Add the pepper flakes and stir for 30 seconds.
Add everything else and cook over high heat, stirring frequently and vigorously--be careful that the bottom does not scorch--for 10-15 minutes or until enough water has evaporated that a good sauce consistency--a bit thicker than heavy cream-- is reached.
Remove from heat and stir in basil. basil at the end. Adjust salt and pepper.
Sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated for at least a week or frozen for months. Reheat before serving