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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 [1] for Kim Boyce [2]‘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) [3]

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.

SERVES 4

Finocchio con Latte al Forno (Saveur, Issue #128) [4]

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