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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Who could resist a dish like the one on the cover ofDomenica Marchetti’s latest cookbook, The Glorious Pasta of Italy? It’s been out for about a year, but I am finally getting around to perusing it and making some of the recipes, including the two I chose for this blog post.
It’s not easy to decide what to make from this book, since there are so many tempting choices. I’m just going to have to work my way through the entire book, from the chapter “Pasta in Soups” to “Pasta on the Run” to “Showstoppers.” There’s something in here for busy families looking for a quick dinner, to fancy dishes you’d serve to the boss. Domenica has included traditional pasta dishes, along with some contemporary dishes of her own invention.
One of the dishes that caught my eye was whole wheat orecchiette with a sauce made using broccoli rape (rapini) and regular broccoli. Instead of using regular broccoli, I made the dish using broccoli rape and some cauliflower, since that’s what I had on hand.
Normally, I shy away from whole-wheat pasta. Anytime I’ve eaten it, cardboard comes to mind. But then again, I’d never eaten home-made whole wheat pasta. That is, until Domenica’s dish gave me the impetus. Besides, my dad –who’s 90 years old and loves to cook — was visiting for the afternoon and I thought it would be fun to make pasta together.
After preparing the dough and kneading it, you roll it out into long “rope” like shapes, then cut off little pieces from the rope and press down, while pushing away from the center.
It’s easy to do, but it takes a little practice and your technique will improve as you work your way through the batch of dough. Make sure your dough isn’t too dry though, or will crumble apart when you try to shape the little ears. If you’re working as a team, you’ll have enough for a meal in no time.
Of course, there’s no law that says you can’t serve this sauce with dried, store-bought pasta. In the photo below, I served it with store-bought creste de gallo (rooster’s crest). You may notice that the sauce here is also much less homogenized (and sparser) than in the other pasta dish (less time in the food processor). It’s just as good either way.
Another recipe from the book I tried were these fluffy dumplings that reminded me a lot of the canederli I eat when I’m in the Trentino-Alto Adige region. But instead of being made with bread as canederli are, these dumplings are made with semolina. It’s nearly the same recipe you’d use for gnocchi alla romana. The difference is these are shaped into ovals or quenelles, unlike round canederli. And rather than bake in the oven, you drop these little quenelles into hot broth.
After making the soup, I reserved some of the “dough,” spread it in a small casserole and refrigerated it. The next day, I arranged it in a buttered casserole with a little grated parmesan on the top and baked it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes and had my gnocchi alla romana. That’s what I call versatility.
Start by cooking semolina flour with milk, eggs and butter. I used semolina from Italy that was sent to me by Olio 2Go. It was perfect for this recipe and I’m looking forward to trying it in other things.
After mixing everything together, use two spoons to push the dough back and forth and make a compact “football” shape.
Then just drop the quenelles into the broth and simmer over the stove for about five to ten minutes.
One last thing – Take a minute to drop by my friend Christo’s blog – Chez What?for a guest post by yours truly on halibut with cannellini beans.
1 batch Whole Wheat Pasta Dough or White Whole Wheat Pasta Dough (please see separate recipe), or 1 lb dried orecchiette
Semolina flour for dusting, if making orecchiette (optional)
Unbleached all-purpose/plain flour for dusting and for shaping the dough, if making the orecchiette (optional)
Whole Wheat Pasta Dough
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup 00 or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t. fine sea salt
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
2/3 cup tepid water
Put the two flours and the salt in a food processor. Pulse briefly to combine. Drizzle in the 1 T. olive oil and turn on the machine. Begin slowly pouring the water through the feed tube, adding only as much as you need for the dough to form crumbs that look like small curds. Pinch together a bit of the mixture and roll it around. It should form a soft ball. If the mixture seems dry, add a few more drops of oil and pulse briefly. If it seems too wet and sticky, add additional “00” flour, 1 T. at a time, and pulse briefly.
(note, mine was too dry and I needed to add more water.)
Turn the mixture out onto a clean work surface sprinkled lightly with flour and press it together with your hands to form a rough ball. Knead the dough: Using the palm of your hand, push the dough gently but firmly away from you, and then fold it over toward you. Rotate the dough a quarter turn, and repeat the pushing and folding motion. Continue kneading for several minutes until the dough is smooth. Form it into a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap/cling film. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.
For the sauce
1 head broccoli, about 1 lb, stalks trimmed and reserved for another use or discarded and head separated into florets (I used cauliflower here)
1 bunch rapini, about 1 lb, tough stalks discarded
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp kosher or fine sea salt, or to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup homemade vegetable broth, homemade chicken broth, or best-quality low-sodium, fat-free commercial vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy/double cream
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino romano cheese for serving
Mix the pasta dough as directed and let it rest. Lightly dust a work surface with semolina. Place a small bowl of all-purpose/plain flour nearby. Dust a rimmed baking sheet/tray or clean tablecloth with semolina or all-purpose flour. Pinch off a golf ball–sized piece of dough and rerwrap the rest so it does not dry out. Using your palms, roll the piece of dough on the dusted surface into a rope the thickness of a pinkie finger. Cut the rope crosswise into small pieces, each about the size of a hazelnut (1/4 to 1/2 in thick). Working with 1 piece at a time, roll it between your palms to form a ball. With the thumb of one hand, press the ball into the middle of the palm of your other hand to form a deep depression in the dough. Rotate the dough and repeat the pressing once or twice, rotating the dough after each impression. You want to create a small, deep saucer. If the dough sticks, dip your thumb into the bowl of flour. Place the finished shape on the flour-dusted baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough until you have shaped it all.
(If you plan to cook the orecchiette within a day of shaping, you can leave them out until it is time to cook them.)
To make the sauce: Bring water to a depth of about 1/2 in to a boil in a steamer pan placed over medium-high heat. Arrange the broccoli florets on the steamer rack, place the rack in the pan, cover, and steam the broccoli for 4 to 5 minutes, or until bright green. Transfer the florets to a bowl and set aside.
Check the water in the steamer pan, and add more as needed until it is 1/2 in deep. Bring to a boil, put the rapini on the steamer rack, cover, and steam for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the leaves and florets are wilted. Transfer to the bowl holding the broccoli.
Warm 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the garlic in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. Add the broccoli and rapini and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the vegetables and garlic are very tender. Stir in the salt and cayenne pepper and raise the heat to medium-high. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, or until some of the wine has evaporated. Remove from the heat and let the vegetables cool for about 10 minutes.
Transfer the vegetables and their cooking liquid to a blender or food processor, add the remaining 1/4 cup oil, and puree until smooth. Gradually add the broth, about 1/4 cup at a time, and process until the puree is the consistency of a thick sauce. You should have about 3 cups sauce.
Return the sauce to the sauté pan and place over low heat. Stir in the cream and heat until warmed through.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the orecchiette and stir to separate. If using fresh pasta, cover the pot until the water comes back to a boil, then uncover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until al dente. If using dried pasta, cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.
Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl and spoon about two-thrids of the sauce over it. Toss gently to combine the pasta and sauce thoroughly, adding a splash or two of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Spoon the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with the cheese. Serve immediately.
Simplify: The orecchiette may be made in advance and frozen (uncooked). Arrange them in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets/trays dusted with semolina and freeze for 1 hour, or until firm. Transfer them to a zipper-lock freezer bag or a tightly lidded container and freeze for up to 1 month, then cook directly from the freezer.
2 cups whole milk or half-and-half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (didn’t use it due to allergies)
2/3 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 cups homemade chicken broth (I used homemade vegetable broth)
Combine the milk, butter, salt, and nutmeg in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then very slowly add the semolina in a constant stream, whisking all the while as you pour. Cook, stirring constantly, until the semolina is thickened and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. This should take about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a bowl, using a spatula to scrape the sides of the pan. Stir in the 1/2 cup of Parmigiano and parsley. Working slowly and stirring as you go, carefully pour in the eggs, taking care to incorporate them immediately so they don’t begin to “cook” and curdle. Set aside while you prepare the broth.
Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Using two standard-size coffee spoons or dessert spoons, scoop up about 1 tablespoon of the semolina mixture and form it into an oval. This is easier than it sounds: you will see the oval naturally take shape as you transfer the mixture from one spoon to the other a few times. As you shape each dumpling, gently drop it into the boiling broth. You should have 20 to 24 dumplings in all. Reduce the heat to medium to allow the dumplings to simmer without the broth boiling over. Simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the dumplings have floated to the surface and puffed up considerably.
Spoon the dumplings into warmed shallow, rimmed bowls, dividing them evenly, and ladle some broth over them. Sprinkle with additional Parmigiano and serve immediately.