Yotam Ottolenghi's semolina recipes: crisp couscous and saffron cakes, plus sweet root vegetable stew with semolina dumplings (2024)

My grandmother's semolina gnocchi – round dumplings sprinkled with parmesan and grilled until puffy, golden-brown and just a little crisp – is the only dish deserving of the title "The best thing I've ever eaten". Apart from Nonna's magic touch, what makes them so great is the semolina. Its glutinous yet slightly gritty nature, the way it carries flavours and fat, its lightness… all contribute to making gnocchi that are super-soothing and delicious.

I am, however, well aware that semolina brings to mind very different memories depending on where you are from. Many Brits would place it, fondly or otherwise, alongside the blancmange and custard of 1970s and 1980s school dinners. Well, banish such thoughts, please, for throughout Italy, eastern Europe and North Africa, semolina iswidely used in both sweet and savoury dishes, from cakes to pasta, couscous and dumplings. My own childhood memories of semolina take me straight to couscous, the hand-rolled semolina pasta of North Africa that immigrants introduced to my home town, Jerusalem. But Iam half-Italian, too, so to me semolina also means bread, pasta and, of course, gnocchi.

Made from the first milling of the heart of the durum wheat kernel, semolina is halfway between wheat and flour. Its name is derived from the Italian semola, meaning bran, and it comes in different grades – from coarse to fine – for different uses. Ithas a high gluten content, which gives it that wonderful, robust nature and stops it breaking down into a starchy paste during cooking. This helps create a light texture while retaining a distinct bite.

Among my favourite ways to use it is in the syrup-soaked semolina cakes of the eastern Mediterranean that are flavoured with desiccated coconut, citrus syrups, flower blossoms, sugar, honey or dried fruit. Whatever you add, though, allthese cakes share the characteristically light texture that comes from the use of fine semolina.

For day-to-day cooking, try acombination of plain flour and semolina next time you make shortbread, say; or sprinkle atablespoon over roughly shaken parboiled potatoes before roasting; Ialso add semolina to vegetable soups, to thicken them a bit, and toadd texture and lots of comfort.

Crisp couscous and saffron cakes

Serve these with tomato chutney orrelish and a green salad. If you want, add fresh herbs such as dill, parsley or mint to the mix. If you can't get barberries, use currants, in which case don't soak them in sugar syrup, but rather in cold lemon juice for 20minutes. Serves four as amain course (five patties each).

½ tsp saffron threads

275g couscous

30g barberries

4 tbsp caster sugar

140g Greek yoghurt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

20g fresh chives, chopped

100g feta, crumbled into 1cm chunks

Salt and black pepper

About 4 tbsp clarified butter or ghee

Put the saffron in a large bowl and pour over 500ml of boiling water. Leave to infuse for a few minutes, then add the couscous. Stir with afork, cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to stand for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the barberries and sugar in a small saucepan. Add 120ml water, bring to a light simmer, stir to dissolve the sugar and remove from the heat. Once cool, drain the barberries and dry on kitchen paper.

Fluff up the couscous with a fork, then add the yoghurt, eggs, chives, feta, barberries, one and a quarter teaspoons of salt and some black pepper. Mix well and then shape into firm round patties about 1.5cm thick and weighing 55g each; press and compact them well, so they don't disintegrate.

Heat two tablespoons of clarified butter in a large frying pan on medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and fry the patties in batches, adding more butter as needed. Cook each batch for five minutes, turning once, until crisp and golden-brown. Transfer to kitchen paper. Serve at once, while they're still warm.

Sweet root vegetable stew with semolina dumplings

Yotam Ottolenghi's semolina recipes: crisp couscous and saffron cakes, plus sweet root vegetable stew with semolina dumplings (1)

This soupy stew is deliciously sweet thanks to the natural sweetness of the roots. If you can find coarse semolina, use it in these dumplings, – it adds texture and fluffiness – but normal semolina will work, too. Serves four generously.

3 tbsp olive oil

10 baby shallots, peeled

6 garlic cloves, peeled

1 small celeriac, peeled and cut into 7cm x 1.5cm batons

4 small turnips, peeled and cut into 1.5cm wedges

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 7cm x 1.5cm batons

2 bay leaves

5g fresh thyme leaves

200ml white wine

900ml vegetable stock

120ml double cream

60g baby spinach, shredded

10g tarragon leaves, roughly chopped

For the dumplings

2 eggs, separated

70g unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature

120g coarse semolina

25g fresh breadcrumbs

30g parmesan, grated

5g fresh sage leaves, chopped

1 tsp dried mint

¼ tsp ground turmeric

Salt and black pepper

Start by making the dumplings. Putthe egg whites in a clean mixingbowl and whisk on a high speed until they form soft peaks. Remove from the bowl, set aside and clean out the bowl. Cream the butter on high speed until it turns pale and soft. Add the egg yolks one at a time,and beat until well combined. With the mixer on aslowspeed, addthe semolina, breadcrumbs, parmesan, sage, driedmint, turmeric and a quarter-teaspoon ofsalt. Once these are all well incorporated, gently mix in the egg whites.

Use your hands to roll the dumpling mix into 10g balls – you should end up with about 40 in all. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the dumplings, boil for eight minutes, strain and set aside.

In a large, heavy-based pot, heat the oil on a high heat. Add the shallots and garlic, cook for two tothree minutes, until they start turning golden-brown, then add thevegetables, bay and thyme. Cookfor five minutes, until the vegetables start to brown, then pour in the wine and leave for a minute tobubble and reduce. Add the stock,a teaspoon and a half of salt and a healthy grind of black pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until thevegetables are almost cooked. Use a slotted spoon to remove thevegetables from the broth andset aside.

Bring the liquid to a boil, slowly whisk in the cream, then add the dumplings. Cover and simmer on alow heat for 15 minutes. Return the vegetables to the pot, add the spinach and stir very gently. Allow the vegetables to warm through, then serve in shallow soup bowls, with tarragon sprinkled on top.

Yotam Ottolenghi's semolina recipes: crisp couscous and saffron cakes, plus sweet root vegetable stew with semolina dumplings (2024)
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