In these days of quarantine cookery, sometimes you run out of pasta. But no worries! If you happen to have semolina flour on hand (I use it for dusting pizza crusts - works like a charm), or even if you have some spare Cream of Wheat lying around, you can make these delightful gnocchi. They are also a good way to use up any milk that needs using as it uses 2 cups (a.k.a. a pint).
Simple Italian Cookery was one of the first vintage cookbooks I ever cooked from, and it was this recipe. Published in 1912 by Antonia Isola, Simple Italian Cookery is considered one of the first Italian cookbooks published in America. Except, "Antonia Isola" was a pseudonym for Mabel Earl McGinnis, a New Yorker who had spent several years living in Rome before turning her hand to cookbook authoring. Simple Italian Cookery was her only known published cookbook and little else is known about her. Despite a fairly thorough search, I was able to turn up little more than references to her pseudonym. She apparently married a Norvell Richardson at some point, and a Mr. & Mrs. Norvell Richardson show up in 1956 in a Virginia newspaper, but simply in a list of guests.
I did find this little reference in my newspaper searches as well. It's an interesting advertisement for the book, published February 24, 1912 in the New York Sun. McGinnis is touted as an "expert" and the reference to "Italian cookery is far from being all 'garlic and macaroni'" is an interesting a slightly racist reference to the cuisine of Italian Americans. By framing this book as "authentic" Italian, rather than the Americanized version of impoverished Italian immigrants, the publisher is setting Simple Italian Cookery in an interesting position - touting its social palatability by associating it with Europe and romantic Italy, trying to convince "American housekeeper" (i.e. white Anglo middle-class women) that the food is simple to prepare and affordable, and also distancing itself from connections to immigrant Italians, who were counted among the "undesirable" immigrants flooding New York (and other locales) in droves during the early 20th century.
Gnocchi di Semolina
Mabel's recipe is really a version of "Gnocchi alla Romana," made from semolina cooked on the stove top, cooled, and then baked again. They predate potato gnocchi, of course, and I vastly prefer them to the potato version. Plus, they're easier! The original recipe doesn't call for tomato sauce, although they are delicious that way. Parmesan cheese would be traditional, but any kind of aged cheese would work.
The recipe above is fairly straightforward, especially if you use a pint canning jar to measure. Be forewarned, however, that two hungry adults can eat this whole pan by themselves (with seconds). A serving size is about 5 squares, and this recipe makes about 20 squares. So you may want to double it for more people, or if you aren't planning a salad or other side dish to accompany it.
1 pint of milk (2 cups)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup farina/semolina flour/cream of wheat
In a 2 quart saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a boil (watch it - it boils over easily!). Add the semolina gradually and whisk while you're at it. Keep whisking as it thickens up, otherwise it will bubble and spit hot semolina at you. You don't have to cook and stir constantly for ten minutes - but cook it for longer than you think, to get as much of the moisture absorbed as possible - the semolina should be quite thick.
Pour out onto parchment paper, aluminum foil, or a wooden cutting board, pat into a rectangle a little more than an inch thick and let cool. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Once cool, cut into squares and layer in a buttered baking dish. Dot with butter and sprinkle with shredded cheese between layers (you'll get about 2 layers). Bake about 20 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
Serve hot with your favorite "gravy" or tomato sauce, or any other kind of sauce you like, or none at all. The gnocchi will be meltingly tender and delicious.
Clearly I used a meat sauce with this, but you could easily make this a Meatless Monday dish - use plain marinara, vodka sauce, pesto, or go the cacio e pepe route and add pecorino (or parmesan) and plenty of black pepper.
This takes a bit of preparation, but if you've been craving something hot and comforting but are out of pasta at home, gnocchi di semolina makes a great substitute.
What comfort foods are you cooking while on stay at home orders?
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Carla R Lesh
4/29/2020 07:14:08 am
What keeps the layers from sticking together?
Carla R Lesh
4/29/2020 07:59:29 am
Also, would this work in a soup? If so, what kind? A bean vegetable, chicken? Thank you!
4/29/2020 12:55:59 pm
Hi Carla, great questions! The layers don't stick together because you dot each layer with tiny dabs of butter (I put one on each square, but they really are tiny dabs, like pinkie fingernail size) and a little cheese.
Carla R Lesh
4/29/2020 01:39:56 pm
5/22/2020 05:03:48 pm
Oh my goodness, this looks good. Adding semolina to the grocery list!
5/22/2020 05:44:23 pm
It really is surprising how delicious it is, given how simple the recipe is! And not just because of all the butter and cheese - the gnocchi themselves are tender and creamy and somehow taste slightly of cheese, despite not having any in the gnocchi themselves.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.