This post contains original content by me and is sponsored by La Cucina Italiana
When most Americans think of gnocchi, they think of those soft little cushions of dough made with flour, potatoes and eggs and served with a tomato or pesto sauce. But there’s an entirely different type of gnocchi made with semolina flour called gnocchi alla Romana.
As you can guess, it’s a Roman dish that is served in a casserole hot from the oven, golden and crunchy on top. Talk about comfort food — these just melt in your mouth. They make a great primo piatto, or first course, but I frequently serve them as a starchy side dish with a roast, or even some meatballs or braciole. I decided to give the traditional gnocchi alla Romana a little twist and added some small cubes of roasted butternut squash. But they’re equally delicious without the squash if you prefer them plain.
Detailed instructions are in the recipe below, but you start by mixing the semolina flour with milk and butter until it’s very stiff. Many people recommend warming the milk first, but in my experience, you’re less likely to get lumps if you start out with cold milk. Keep stirring so it doesn’t burn on the bottom, and when it’s thick enough to hold a wooden spoon upright, you’re there.
You need eggs to make the gnocchi “puff up” in the oven, but if you stir the eggs directly into the pan with the hot gnocchi mixture, you’re going to wind up with scrambled eggs. So you need to temper the eggs first. To do this, place the eggs in a measuring cup and whisk them together. Then add a bit of the hot gnocchi mixture to the measuring cup, whisking all the time. Keep adding a few more tablespoons at a time, whisking vigorously each time, until the temperature of the mixture has warmed slightly and become a little thick. Now it’s safe to add this mixture into the large pot with the rest of the semolina gnocchi mixture, stirring all the while to blend everything together well.
Stir in the cooked bits of squash.
Then spread it out on a cookie sheet that you first moisten with a little water. Let it cool in the refrigerator several hours or overnight (covered with plastic wrap if overnight.)
Use a cookie or biscuit cutter (or even the rim of a glass) to cut circles about two to three inches in diameter.
Arrange in a buttered pan.
Generously sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.
Bake in the oven until golden and crispy on top.
Make extra, because they are always a hit and you’ll want leftovers. They’re easy to reheat in the oven or microwave the next day.
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- 1 cup butternut squash, diced into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt, pepper
- 9 oz. semolina (1¼ cup)
- 1½ quarts of milk
- 2 eggs
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
- pinch of salt
- pinch of white pepper
- a few gratings of nutmeg
- 1 cup parmesan cheese
- Peel the butternut squash and dice into small pieces.
- Toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
- (I use herbed salt that I make from fresh herbs.)
- Roast the squash in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, turning once.
- Remove squash from oven and set aside.
- Place the milk and the semolina in a saucepan.
- Many people tell you to heat the milk first, then add the semolina, but I find it gets lumpy that way, so I start with cold milk and add the semolina directly.
- Whisk it constantly, adding half the stick of butter (4 tablespoons), the salt, the white pepper and the nutmeg.
- After about five minutes, it will thicken quite a bit, and you can switch from stirring with the whisk to a wooden spoon.
- Keep stirring another ten minutes until the mixture is very thick.
- Remove from the heat and add half the parmesan cheese.
- Whisk the eggs in a glass measuring cup or bowl.
- Don't add the eggs directly into the hot gnocchi mixture or you might wind up with scrambled eggs.
- Instead, add a small amount - maybe a few tablespoons - of the gnocchi mixture to the eggs, stirring quickly with a whisk to incorporate.
- Do this a few times until the mixture is thickened and homogenized.
- Add the egg mixture back to the gnocchi mixture and stir in the reserved squash.
- Wet a cookie sheet (one with raised edges) with a little water.
- Spread the gnocchi mixture on the cookie sheet, to an even thickness of about ¾ inch.
- Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator and let it cool for at least four hours or overnight.
- Take a round cookie cutter, or biscuit cutter, or even the edge of a glass, and cut out circles, about two to three inches in diameter.
- Grease an oven proof casserole, and place the rounds inside, overlapping slightly.
- Make a second layer, but don't completely cover up the first layer around the edges, since you want them to get some browning too.
- Melt 4 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gnocchi, then sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup parmesan cheese.
- Bake uncovered, at 400 degrees, for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.