Here in the states, when we think of gnocchi we generally think of those cute little football shaped potato gnocchi, that sit like lumps of glue in your stomach if not properly made*. During my trip to Rome at the end of 2007 I was introduced to a different kind of gnocchi at the Home Food dinner I took part in. This one was made with semolina instead of potato and is the epitome of comfort food in Roman home cooking. I was excited to give this gnocchi a try, despite the fact that I tend to avoid it’s potato-y cousin due to having been served too many plates of glue doused with overly rich sauces. Semolina gnocchi is actually a baked dish, consisting creamy semolina discs, baked until brown and crisp, and is served without sauce.
The recipe I was given in Rome is a combination of semolina, milk, butter, eggs and cheese that is whisked, spread, cut and baked to a crispy, crusty brown. I completely adore it. I have however been wanting to develop my own version of this dish for The Endive Chronicles, but how could I possibly improve upon so much delicious perfection. For a year now I have vacillated on this matter and it was only recently that I came to my conclusion. Why do I have to improve it? Why don’t I just make it mine. As it is this dish is the essence of comfort and warmth, but I decided to take it in another direction. By that, I don’t mean I will make it the essence of discomfort and chill, but I will replace the milk and butter with stock and olive oil and add to it a ray of light in the form of roasted red peppers.
For months I had been staring at a jar of peppers in my cupboard, out of ideas and waiting for something fresh to come to mind. So, when I began to get serious about the semolina gnocchi recipe my thoughts turned to the little jar of preserved summer waiting patiently in my cupboard.
I actually paced the apartment waiting for the gnocchi to bake. It was a torturous time as the scent was as amazing as my oven is unreliable (in case you are in any doubt, my oven is extremely unreliable). And, if that wasn’t bad enough, Phil had to take photos before we could dig in. Why, oh, why didn’t I put both pans in at once? Thankfully, there was a reward for my suffering. The peppers and cheese worked beautifully and the bit of cayenne pepper was not enough to make it fiery, but really intensified the flavor of the roasted peppers.
For this recipe I decided to keep the presentation traditional, but I can’t help thinking about all of the other possibilities this dish presents. Maybe next time I will top the gnocchi with chopped walnuts or switch out the cheese and a bit of stock for chevre. In the summer I know I will be adding in garden fresh basil. I may even replace the peppers with chard or caramelized onions. It would also be great to saute them individually and use them as a base for a canape or even dredge them in a bit of dry semolina and toss them into the fryer. Oh, the possibilities. Isn’t food fun?
Roasted Red Pepper Semolina Gnocchi
4 Roasted Red Peppers, drained with any seeds removed
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 garlic clove, miced
2 Egg Yolks, (save the whites and have some meringue for dessert!)
1 1/2 cups Semolina
4 cups Rich Chicken Stock
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1/4 tsp Freshly Ground Pepper
1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 cup either Pecorino, Parmesan or even a Dry Jack + more for to top, at room temperature, grated
Place your peppers, olive oil, garlic and egg yolks in a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
In a large pot bring your stock to a rolling boil and very slowly pour in the semolina whisking until smooth. Remove from the heat and pour in the red pepper mixture, incorporating well before adding the sea salt, pepper, cayenne and grated cheese. Spread the mixture out on a large baking sheet (or two) about a 1/2 an inch thick and allow to set in the fridge.
Preheat your oven to 375F and grease your baking pan (or pans) with olive oil.
Using a biscuit cutter cut out your gnocchi and lay them in your pan overlapping them a bit (the Roman recipe describes this as a terraced hillock). Top your gnocchi with a good dusting of cheese and place it in the oven until nice and brown about 45 minutes to an hour.
Serves 6-8 as a first course.
Note: If you are like us and this is just for two, make two pans, one to bake and one to freeze. You’ll thank yourself later.
*For what is in my opinion, the best potato gnocchi in Seattle head to Crow on 5th in Lower Queen Anne. The gnocchi have a sleek look, reminiscent of small scallops with a light texture and are dressed in a glorious brown butter sauce instead of the dreaded cream that all too often accompanies gnocchi.