Roman Holiday (I wish)

The new issue of Saveur features a cover story on the food of Rome. I’ve been experiencing some pretty serious wanderlust in recent weeks and so dreaming about Rome came pretty naturally. Since I have no real hopes of a trip to Italy in the near future, I decided to try a couple of the recipes. I started with the gnocchi and the milk-braised fennel. Luckily, they were both great, relatively easy to make, and perfect for this moment where many of us are anxiously waiting the arrival of warmer days and adventure.

The Roman gnocchi (Gnocchi alla Romana), which actually seems a lot more like polenta in preparation, tastes incredible. I think this recipe is absolutely lovely and I will definitely be making it again soon. Semolina is cooked with milk, Parmesan, egg yolks and butter. Spread in a pan and allowed to cool. Then cut into squares and baked in a very hot oven until golden brown and crisp on the edges. It is great as is, but I think next time I will try a red sauce with it to make it a bit more of a meal. It would be heavenly with a nice bright red sauce, just barely cooked with fresh basil.

I love fennel and was excited when the milk braised fennel tasted as good as I had hoped it would. The technique is simple and the results make for a really satisfying side dish. The fennel becomes very rich and sweet after the braising and baking but the saltiness of the Parmesan offers a nice contrast.

For the record, neither of these dishes satisfied my desire for travel. In fact, they made it worse. So, proceed with caution.

Unrelated to Rome, fennel, or semolina is a cookbook review I posted over at ReadyMade for Kim Boyce‘s new book Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours. It is the best cookbook I have seen in a while and I encourage all of you to check it out. I’ll post a recipe and more on the book soon. And speaking of ReadyMade, you’ll notice a little article I wrote in the new issue which is out now. Especially exciting is that the whole issue is dedicated to FOOD! It is beautiful and worth picking up.

Gnocchi alla Romana (Saveur, April 2010)

  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 1⁄2    cups semolina (about 8 oz.)
  • 1 1⁄2    cups finely grated Parmesan
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • Kosher salt, to taste

In a 5-qt. pot over medium-high heat, bring milk to a simmer while stirring. Reduce heat to low; slowly whisk in semolina. Cook, whisking, until tender, 8–10 minutes. Whisk in 1⁄2 cup Parmesan, 4 tbsp. butter, and yolks; season with salt. Remove from heat.

Wet a 15″ x 10″ rimmed baking sheet with a soaked paper towel. Pour semolina mixture onto baking sheet; smooth surface with spatula to 1⁄2″ thickness. Let cool until firm, about 40 minutes.

Heat oven to 450˚. Using a knife, cut gnocchi dough in 2″ squares; transfer half of the squares to a buttered 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Sprinkle gnocchi with 1⁄4 cup Parmesan and dot with 2 tbsp. butter. Layer remaining gnocchi on top and sprinkle with 1⁄4 cup cheese and remaining butter. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Serve with remaining cheese.


Finocchio con Latte al Forno (Saveur, Issue #128)

  • 3 medium bulbs fennel, fronds reserved
  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Heat oven to 475°. Remove tough outer layer of fennel. Halve bulbs lengthwise and cut into 1⁄2″ wedges. Combine fennel, milk, and 2 tbsp. butter in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until fennel is just tender, 30–45 minutes. Add fennel seeds and season with salt and pepper.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer fennel to a 2-quart oval baking dish; pour 1 cup of the milk mixture over fennel. Sprinkle with Parmesan, dot with remaining butter, and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve fennel garnished with some of the fronds.

SERVES 4 – 6

14 comments to “Roman Holiday (I wish)”

  1. Heather @ chik n pastry says:

    March 22nd, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    I’m a so-so fennel fan but the milk braising sounds really interesting!!

    Oh and I just bought that book (Boyce) and can’t wait to get home to try some recipes! I’ve been out of town since I bought the damn thing!

  2. Whoa, very intrigued by this fennel recipe. I love fennel, but have had mostly in pasta sauces (not really a stand alone preparation like this dish). I wish, too, for a Roman Holiday… someday. :)

  3. Semolina gnocchi were one of my favourites as a child, but it is literally ages that I don’t eat them! Weird, isn’t it? On the other hand, I never liked cooked fennel, even though also the fennel recipe was a traditional one at home..
    I was lucky enough to steal a weekend in Rome recently. I can’t wait to go back. There is no other place like that, not even in Italy. And the food! The variety and quality of vegetables is the most striking feature, especially now, at the beginning of spring. However, cookbooks and magazines are a good substitute for travel: you did not spend any hours blocked at the airport, with only tasteless airport ‘food’ and another million angry passangers..

  4. so funny. i picked up that issue yesterday, and those were the two recipes i marked to try 1st! very much looking forward to whipping them up.

  5. I was just drooling over the Roman gnocchi last night as I paged through the new issue… amazing stuff. And it definitely gave me a craving to be on holiday!

    Completely missed this fennel recipe — though it’s definitely one to try. I love the combination of the fresh bulb with the dried seed. And milk braising takes everything up a notch. *drool*

  6. Jan Canyon says:

    March 23rd, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    These recipes love lovely! Have you a copy of “The Roman Cookery of Epicius” by Jonathan Edwards? It is a great translation and adaptation of the first early Roman recipes and is quite good. It may be out of print, however. I enjoy your blog very much.

  7. Karin's mom says:

    March 23rd, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Tips About Seeing Rome

    1. Lower your expectations about the Spanish steps.
    2. Go out at night. The fountains are beautiful and the pace less touristy.
    3. Do not enter a cab unless you can see the rollbars.
    4. Beware of alley restaurants. Our friends paid $25 for two cokes.
    5. The Vatican has a no tolerance dress code.
    6. Be careful if you want your golf balls blessed at the Vatican gift shop. In the summer, the temp. pope blesses them. I am not sure how that works out.
    7.Don’t talk to the gladiators at the Forum. They love messing with the tourists, especially pretty girls.
    8. Do not joke about terrorits at the airport. Security stands on a catwalk with machine guns.
    9. These people do not believe in ice or French dressing. Take your own (dressing, not ice).
    10. Dining begins at nine and goes for hours. Eat first.

  8. That sounds like a really wonderful dish. I love fennel and milk braising makes perfect sense. Buon appetito!

  9. I agree, your Roman gnocchi is screaming for a nice red sauce. Well, maybe not screaming, rather emphatically protesting anything other than. :)

  10. Wow, that gnocchi sounds wonderful! I was drooling by the end of the post. Yum. Oh, and my Good to the Grains book is currently en route to my house. I cannot wait to cook my way through it!

  11. Oh yummmmm!! Rome is my favorite city ever and I can’t wait to get that magazine. These images are gorgeouser and gorgeouser!! Call me when you set sail for Rome – I’ve got some good spots to tell you about…or maybe I’ll just put them on my blog. You are too inspiring Tim

  12. The milk braised fennel sounds so interesting. Thanks for sharing the recipe.
    Rome… ah Rome, the eternal city… I wish you go there soon!

  13. I love fennel! Just picked up the lastest Saveur and look forward to reading from front to back. Rome is on my “bucket list” – I will have to make these to feel like I am there until I actually venture over. Thanks for sharing.

  14. oh, hot diggity!! just pulled this little fennel number out of my saveur today, fingers-crossed that it would be as smashing as it sounds. i’m smiling all over that it’s been tried, and liked. i’m all over this one, once we get some local fennel…

What do you think?