Friday, April 09, 2010

Gnocchi alla Romana

My kitchen has been filled with flops recently. The latest was Gnocchi alla Romana from Heidi Swanson's cookbook, Super Natural Cooking. Boiled down to basics, you make a firm semolina-based dough that is cooled and then cut into rounds and baked. Firm being the key. It didn't go well. I was distracted and didn't heat the milk enough or cook the semolina enough. The semolina never became firm, it just remained a mushy pile of mush. I put it in the refrigerator hoping it would firm up overnight and we ordered a pizza.

Gnocchi alla romanaRound two: By the next evening, the dough was still a pile of mush. I threw the whole thing back in a pot and cooked it some more hoping it would thicken. I put it in the refrigerator to cool and, determined to have gnocchi alla Romana that night, I started a second batch using Mario Batali's recipe as a guide. I knew the recipe wasn't the problem and knew what I had done wrong, but still wanted some other guidance.

While I was doing this, the first batch was sitting in the fridge, all mushy and gooey. It never set. I took it out, scooped it by the handful and formed little balls, pressing them into disc-like rounds. I baked these according to the recipe and then baked the second batch that had actually worked properly. Both had their winning moments. I've combined what I liked about each here.

Roman-style Gnocchi: Gnocchi Alla Romana

Adapted from Mario Batali and Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking

3 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
4 TB unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pans
1 1/2 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus 1/2 cup
4 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Butter 1 cookie sheet with 3/4-inch sides and an 8x8" or slightly larger baking dish.

In a large saucepan, heat milk, butter and salt over medium-high heat until it is simmer steadily. It will froth up pretty quickly, so keep an eye on things and stir frequently. Gradually pour in the semolina in a thin stream, whisking vigorously, and cook for a minute or two until it thickens quite a bit and starts to separate from the sides of the pan, switching to a wooden spoon as it thickens. You want it to be quite thick so that it can be cut easily in a solid form once cool. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup grated cheese and 4 egg yolks. Mix well to combine, working quickly so the eggs don't set. Pour mixture onto the buttered cookie sheet and, using a spatula, spread to a thickness of 1/2-inch. Allow to cool 10 minutes or so. Semolina should be firm to the touch.

Using a biscuit cutter or water glass, cut 2- or 3-inch rounds out of semolina. Arrange them in the buttered baking dish so that each round is slightly overlapping the one before it. Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese and bake, covered with foil or a lid, for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake for 20 to 25 minutes more until top is deep golden brown. Remove and serve immediately with a marinara or sauce of your choice. I used Heidi Swanson's Bright Red Tomato Sauce as shown in this post.

Gnocchi alla romanaPlease don't be dissuaded by my failed attempts! It's actually quite easy and both recipes — and Heidi's cookbook in particular‚ are worth checking out.

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