If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you know that my track record with new recipes significantly varies. A few of them are home runs, lots fall in the mid-category range of being decent, but not necessarily warranting a repeat appearance, and every now and again I come up with a real clunker. My recent attempt at making semolina-based gnocchi (aka Gnocchi alla Romana) falls into this last category, a spectacular, unmitigated, nearly-inedible disaster. How did we get here, you say? Well, I'll try to conduct an adequate post-mortem.
I've had a 2-lb. bag of semolina wheat sitting in my spice/baking cabinet for nearly a year now. I went out and purchased it soon after my original mediocre attempt at making gnocchi last year (this one was potato-based - see February 2011 posting). With Lent having just arrived and the bag's expiration date fast approaching, I decided that last Friday was the perfect time to finally try out the semolina gnocchi, in theory an ideal meat-free dish for us (semi-)observant Catholics. The recipe in question Gnocchi alla Romana comes from my oft-used April 2010 issue of Saveur featuring Roman cuisine (you'll recall that I've had much success replicating dishes from this article up until now). Upon reading the instructions, I didn't anticipate any hangups and set off pretty confident in my abilities to pull this one off like the others.
Almost immediately, I hit a major snag. The recipe calls for 1 1/2 c. of semolina, or 8 oz. Now, I would assume that most normal, thinking folks would read that and say "Boy, that must mean the 2 measures should be roughly equal". I may not be considered normal or a thinking folk, but, in any case, that's at least what I thought. Perhaps the fact that one measure is a volume (c.) and one measure is a mass (oz.) should have led me to be a bit more cautious in double-checking my ingredient outlay. Anyway, when the milk started simmering and I added my 1 1/2 c. of semolina, I was shocked to discover that my pot became an unstirrable (is that even a word?) morass of glop, with the material inside unable to be moved by whisk, wooden spoon, or jackhammer. It was almost as if I had added too much semolina. Hmmmm. It was then that I glanced at my bag of semolina to note that it was half-empty. This is when the math gears in my mind began whirring....2 lb. is 32 oz.....half of 32 oz. is 16 oz......1 1/2 c. of semolina is 16 oz.). Why, I had used twice as much semolina as I was supposed to! Was this semolina somehow a super-dense version previously unknown to mankind? I cursed myself out for not noticing this discrepancy at the beginning and tossed the whole mess in the garbage (I must admit it wasn't a total loss - it actually smelled nutty and rather pleasant as garbage goes, even after a day or two).
At this point, convinced I had solved the problem, I started again, this time using the correct amount of semolina (3/4 c. or 8 oz.). All went well until it was time to cut up the solidified, dried gnocchi dough into 2" squares. The mixture looked good when pored onto my cookie sheet and seemed to have the right consistency, but after the recommended 40 minutes of downtime, I cut into....glop, a soggy, loose, wet mess that barely held any shape. This couldn't possibly be right, could it? Now I was really in trouble. I had already lost time after my initial misfire, the kids were hungry, Mrs. Hackknife was about to walk in the door expecting to find a hot, hearty dinner, and I've got Malt-o-Meal. I put on a brave face and tried to finish out the recipe, using a spatula to scoop the very-runny dough squares into my baking dish, loading them up with cheese/butter, throwing them into the oven, and hoping for the best. The best never arrived. My completed gnocchi landed on the plates looking like bad polenta and tasting worse than that. Even our well-loved house pesto sauce (which I would gladly apply to my own gym shoes if for some reason they were the only thing around to eat) couldn't rescue this. Mrs. Hackknife stopped after a couple bites and murmured something about take-out pizza. The progeny? Forget it. I soldiered through a first and smaller second helping, then promptly tossed the remainder to join its unborn sibling at the bottom of the trashcan.
I want to believe that the dough simply needed extra drying time to harden, but I'm not entirely sure that's true. After this and the prior unsuccessful experience, I'm starting to think that gnocchi just might not really ever find a place in my recipe box (I don't even really like eating it that much, so I won't shed any tears). From now on, I'll leave the gnocchi making to my Ohio relatives (who can turn out a mean batch of the stuff) and our local Italian restauranteurs....