Semolina Gnocchi – A Cinque Terre Experience!

Robin Boyle Entree, From the Archives, International Travel & Photos, Italian, Main course, Recipe, Vegetables

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This post is from an article we wrote for Club Marine magazine in 1997. The food shots date from that period too, while the scenery shots are more recent.
(Use the Print button at the top of this page for a hard copy or pdf of the recipe in this post.)

Monterosso al Mare – Cinque Terre

Monterosso al Mare is one of the five “towns” of  the Cinque Terre, so-named because of the five villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia and Riomaggiore) crammed into tiny inlets, along an astonishingly steep coastline. When we first visited, in the early 1990s, it was busy with tourists; these days though it is over-whelmed by them. Still, it is a wonderful area to visit and the starting point is generally Monterosso.

Many of us in Australia are familiar with gnocchi made from flour or potatoes. These are lumps of dough smaller than a walnut, normally cooked in boiling water and served with a flavourful sauce. Not so well known is gnocchi made from semolina. Although often called gnocchi alla romana, it seems to be eaten in many other parts of Italy, not just Rome. We had a delicious version in Monterosso, served with pesto sauce. Semolina is wheat based, but coarser than normal flour, and is widely available in good supermarkets and health food shops.

Semolina Gnocchi

Semolina gnocchi are baked and give a result that is quite delicious, and surprisingly light in texture. Because they are baked, there is no need to be too concerned about shaping the gnocchi. Some recipes recommend flattening the boiled semolina on a board and cutting out disks. The alternative given here is to cut them from a sausage shape. The dish is quite rich because of the milk, butter and Parmesan. Thus, only offer small servings, and either serve them alone, or with a healthy sauce such as pesto (perhaps without added Parmesan) or an Italian style tomato sauce or sugo.

A “porridge” must be made from the milk and semolina. Use top quality eggs: the yolks, butter and semolina give a superb golden result. The whole dish could be made some time ahead before baking.

Ingredients (for four)
  • 1250 ml milk
  • 125g butter, sliced for ease of melting
  • good pinch each of salt, pepper and nutmeg
  • 250g fine semolina flour
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 125g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 3 tbsp fine breadcrumbs
  • To accompany (optional): Pesto sauce or sugo

Use and oven-proof dish at least 4 cm deep, and 25 to 30 cm in diameter (if round) and 30 cm by 20 cm if rectangular. Just before baking the gnocchi, set the oven to 200oC.

Heat the milk in a large saucepan. Watch that it does not boil over. Just as it reaches boiling point, add half the butter and the seasonings, and stir in. When the butter is melted, pour the semolina in a stream, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Alternatively, shake it through a sieve. It is important to prevent lumps forming. To help do this, bring quickly to the boil again, stirring continuously, until it begins to thicken noticeably. Immediately lower the heat to very low, and continue to cook for a total of 20 minutes, stirring well and often.

Allow to cool, being patient. Perhaps place the saucepan on a cold surface to cool faster, stirring occasionally. The mixture should not be too hot, otherwise it will cook the egg yolks when they are added. When just cool enough to insert a finger, quickly and thoroughly stir in the egg yolks, then about three quarters of the cheese. The mixture should be quite thick. You can use it while still warm or allow it to cool for an hour or so.

Butter the baking dish. Melt the rest of the butter. Oil a smooth surface with a tablespoon or two of good olive oil. Using about half the semolina mixture, and with well-oiled hands, make several sausage shapes about 2cm in width and height. Cut these into approximately 2 cm cubes, and place in an ad hoc manner in the base of the dish. Sprinkle with half the melted butter, then all the remaining grated Parmesan. Make another layer of gnocchi on top of this, then sprinkle with the rest of the melted butter, then the breadcrumbs. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until well-risen, and golden. Serve alone or with a suitable sauce.

Equipment: Saucepan, oven proof dish.

Difficulty: Moderately difficult (3/5), 15 to 20 minutes preparation.

Serve: Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as an entree.

The two photos of baked semolina gnocchi were taken in 1997.