This wonderful dish of goodness is called Gnocchi alla Romana, but it’s not at all like the gnocchi you may know of, commonly made with potatoes. These are made with semolina and they will fast become your favorite comfort food. In Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cookbook,” she mentions that this dish can be traced back directly to Imperial Rome. Apicius, the Roman gourmet who lived during the 1st century, had a recipe for gnocchi made of semolina exactly like these, then fried and served with honey. These are made the same way, but baked in the oven with freshly grated parmesan cheese and are as light as can be.
My friend Alessandra, who’s not from Rome, but from Padova, prepared them for yesterday’s gathering of “Le Matte.” Alessandra is one of those people who you thank God you have as a friend. Not because she’s a wonderful cook, a welcoming hostess, a talented quilt-maker, a nurturing mother and grandmother, and a gifted teacher (all of which she is), but because she stands alone in her generosity of spirit and ability to bring out the best in people, whether they’re her personal friends or not.
So even if you can’t count on Alessandra as your neighbor and friend, at least you can have her gnocchi alla Romana. Here’s the recipe:
Start with the semolina. You can sometimes buy it in bulk in health food stores, but our supermarkets sell it in vacuum-sealed packages that look like this: Now here’s what to do with it: Gnocchi Alla Romana printable recipe here
One package of semolina (17.6 ounces or nearly 3 cups)
2 quarts of milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup parmesan cheese, plus a few more tablespoons for sprinkling
Bring two quarts of milk to a boil and slowly pour in a stream of the semolina, mixing the whole time. Cook for a few minutes, then remove from the heat and briskly add the eggs, being careful not to scramble them. Add about 1 cup of parmesan cheese. Spread the mixture on a cookie sheet moistened with water and chill. Using a round cookie cutter or the rim of a glass, cut the semolina into disks. You will be making two layers, so save the nicest rounds for the top layer. Starting with the bottom layer, arrange the disks around the perimeter and use the little odd shapes that remain for the interior of the bottom layer. Pour half of the melted butter over the disks, and sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese. For the top layer, place the disks all over the first layer, except for around the perimeter. You’ll want to leave them exposed so that they too become golden brown in the oven. Pour the rest of the butter and a couple more tablespoons of parmesan cheese over the rest of the rounds. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. For even more color, place under the broiler for a few minutes at the very end.
Wait a couple of minutes if you have the patience of Job, otherwise dig right into these:
The device you see in the slides above is a "torchio," a hollow brass tube attached to a bench or a wall. Different metal "dies" can be inserted in the torchio for different shapes of pasta. The torchio belonged to my mother's family in Italy. After decades of collecting dust in my basement, the torchio was recently resurrected when my father offered to make a bench for it. The torchio is screwed to the bench, semolina pasta dough is fed into the tube, the crank is turned, (in this case by my son Michael) and with a lot of elbow grease, pasta is extruded through the die. What comes out below is a tubular pasta - anything from thin spaghetti to bucatini, similar to a hollow straw.
In my last life, I was a journalist in NYC, but left the rat race to live in Italy for a year. I created this blog upon my return to combine my interests of writing and photography with my love of food and travel. My mother was from the region of Emilia-Romagna, my father's family was from Calabria and my late husband's family is Abruzzese. Is it any wonder then, that Italian art, music, food and the country's beautiful landscape are among my passions? I hope you will try some of the recipes and post comments. Buon Appetito. Linda