Gnocchi alla romana predates potato gnocchi by centuries. Dough made from water and some sort of wheat grain goes back forever. There weren’t potatoes in Italy until the 1600s, and some say this recipe is from the 1300s. Here, we’re taking red or amber winter wheat and milling just the endosperm into semolina for the gnocchi, which has more of a coarse texture than other flours.
The recipe is simple: just milk, semolina, and egg yolks. It’s sort of like a custard that you pour out, chill, and cut into shapes. You’d usually put butter and parmesan on top, then bake it. Sometimes, Romans will pour it onto a board or marble, like polenta, and cut it into squares. I made it at Lupa for a really long time and got totally sick of it, but we actually just put it on the menu here at Del Posto as a component on an abbacchio (roasted lamb) dish. We put dollops of gnocchi onto a plate and broil that, and then plate the lamb on top.
When you’re cutting the custard into shapes, you’ll have scraps left over. We roll them in semolina because they’re really sticky, and then we fry them until they’re brown. You can serve them with any kind of soft cheese—we use a buffalo camembert that will melt your face off with its pungency.
- 4 1/2 C (1 liter) milk
- 1 3/4 C (210 g) semolina
- 8 T (120 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for lubrication
- 7 T (35 g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnish
- 2 large egg yolks
- + coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring the milk to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat.
Reduce the heat to low. Whisk the semolina in a steady stream into the milk. Cook, stirring slowly and gently with a wooden spoon, until the semolina pulls away from the sides as a mass and a skin forms on the bottom of the pot, about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in 6 tablespoons butter, the grated cheese, and egg yolks. Stir well between additions to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour the hot mixture onto a buttered and parchment paper-lined half sheet pan. Spread with an offset spatula to an even thickness somewhere between 1½ and 2½ centimeters (½ inch – 1 inch). Let cool completely.
Heat your oven as high as it will go.
Using a round cutter, cut the semolina porridge into 2-inch rounds. Shingle the gnocchi, overlapping slightly, on a buttered sheet pan, casserole dish, or sauté pan. Dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and sprinkle with cheese. Bake until golden brown. Pour off any excess butter and serve.