They are neither Roman nor gnocchi but delicious nonetheless. Typically hard to find on Italian restaurant menus here in the States, they are semolina disks, buttery and cheesy, normally served with homemade tomato sauce. My friend Giuseppina made me think about gnocchi recently, the potato variety ones, which led me to remember how much I used to love the smell of parmesan and butter emanating from the oven when, just home from school, I would discover we would have Roman Gnocchi (also known as semolina gnocchi) for dinner.
It’s much more likely they originated in Piedmont but, who knows, maybe they migrated down south and the Romans refined them. They are exceptionally easy to make and, besides semolina flour, all the other ingredients are already to be found in any decent pantry.
Semolina is a word that derives from the Latin “simila” (flour), in turn borrowed from the Greek for groats. In agricultural term, semolina is the endosperm (fun word eh?) or the heart of the durum kernel that gets discarded when making durum wheat and subsequently sifted to obtain the yellow flour we know. Semolina is at the base of couscous, bulgur wheat and it’s what you eat every time you reach for a box of cream of wheat or grits. It’s extremely high in gluten, perfect for holding our gnocchi shape, and high in protein – as carbs go.
I know I know – I am into week three of my cleanse and I shouldn’t even think of anything with gluten or dairy. In a self-sacrificing effort I was only experimenting for the purposes of this blog – and the kitchen smelled divine, just like on those afternoons after school.
ANNAROSA’S RECIPE (as transcribed by yours truly)
1 quart Milk – preferably whole
1 1/2 C Semolina flour
4 to 6 T Butter
Salt to taste
A pinch of nutmeg
3/4 C Parmesan, grated
Your favourite tomato sauce
- Combine milk, butter, salt and nutmeg in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and start pouring the semolina into the hot milk in a thin stream, while whisking constantly. Turn the heat to very low and whisk for a few minutes until the mixture thickens, like a stiff polenta (if you are a dingbat like me and are making this while watching tv and you happen to pour the semolina in all at once, you can try to fix it with a hand immersion blender before it solidifies).
- Remove from heat and quickly add half of the parmesan and the yolks. Whisk to combine and taste, adjusting for salt.
- Cover the bottom of a baking sheet with plastic wrap and pour the semolina mixture, smoothing the top with a spatula, to a thickness of 1/2”. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
- When ready to serve, heat the oven to 425/450F and butter the bottom of a large baking dish. Using a round cutter (2” to 3” in diameter) cut the semolina dough – if the cutter gets stuck in the dough, just dip it in cold water or coat it with pan spray. Place the disks in the baking pan, dot them with butter and sprinkle them with the remaining Parmesan. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned (and your kitchen smells fantastic)
- Remove from oven and spread your hot tomato sauce on top. Serve.