Winter Comfort Food

by Chef Deb Traylor

It’s finally getting cold in Colorado and for those of you who don’t live here, you might be surprised that we actually look forward to winter. Many of us love this time of year, with the sharp cool air, the majestic view of mountains blanketed with snow, and the fact that even when the temperatures dip into the low twenties we still have sunny, clear blue skies! Colorado winters are spectacular!

It’s during this time of year that we start up our fireplaces, bring out warm throws, and pull out those winter recipes we haven’t seen in the last 9 months. Cold weather means comfort food, and big pots of long simmering, deeply flavored recipes in the oven or on the stove. In my home, my daughters start asking for braised short ribs with celery root puree, chicken noodle soup and gnocchi. These are my “go to” dishes once cold weather has arrived and I instinctively begin to shop for all the components of these recipes when the temperatures dip into the 30’s.

This year both of my daughters are in college and there’s really no reason to spend the time or energy cooking all day. Yet, cooking is what I do! It is also the way I connect one season to the next, and remind myself to slow down. These recipes are so ingrained into the traditions of my family that I received a text from both daughters yesterday asking when I was going to make chicken soup with handmade noodles, and could I please freeze some so they could have it when they came home, because they missed the smells of winter. The answer is, and will always be, YES!

Today, we wanted to share with you a deliciously easy recipe for Gnocchi all Romana. It’s simple to prepare, and you won’t have to spend all day shaping and cooking. It’s a family favorite and perfect for those days when all you want to do is curl up next the fireplace and enjoy the slower days of winter.

Notes and Comments

  • Semolina is the coarse, purified wheat middlings of durum wheat used in making pasta, breakfast cereals, puddings and couscous. I used Bob’s Red Mill for this recipe.
  • Feel free to use any type of herbs in place of sage: thyme, rosemary or basil all work nicely
  • There are several ways to shape this dough. The simplest is to spread it on a rimmed sheet tray lined with plastic wrap that’s been sprayed with a little cooking spray. Let the mixture rest for 10 -15 minutes and cut into circles or just cut into even squares. The traditional form is round, and you can either use one of the two methods described in the instructions or you can even take a small 2-ounce cookie scoop and flatten each serving with the bottom of a wet glass.
  • You can also use any choice of cheese you have on hand, but we’ve found that semi hard cheeses and melting cheese work best: fontina, Romano, pecorino and Gruyere all work nicely with this dish.
  • If you don’t want to use pumpkin puree, substitute 3 Tbsp. additional cheese or 3 Tbsp. more butter.

Gnocchi alla Romana

Serves: 4-6

  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • a few pinches of nutmeg
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 3 Tbsp. pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh sage
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 cup grated fontina or Parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened (for greasing pan)
  • 2 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan
  • additional sage leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat milk, salt, and nutmeg in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until bubbles form around edges of saucepan. Slowly whisk in semolina.

Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often with rubber spatula, until mixture forms stiff mass that pulls away from sides of pan, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Stir pumpkin puree and egg into semolina mixture until incorporated. (Mixture will appear separated at first but will become smooth.) Stir in fontina, sage, and baking powder until incorporated.

Fill a small bowl with water. Moisten a 1/4-cup dry measuring cup with water and scoop a portion of semolina mixture. Invert the measuring cup onto a tray or large plate and release gnocchi. Alternately, you can moisten a 2-inch round ring cuter or milk, pack in filling and invert.

Repeat, moistening measuring cup or cutter between scoops to prevent sticking. Place tray of gnocchi, uncovered, in refrigerator for 30 minutes. (Gnocchi can also be refrigerated, covered, for up to 24 hours.) Butter the inside of an 8-inch square baking dish with remaining tablespoon butter. Shingle gnocchi in pan, creating three rows of four or five gnocchi each. Sprinkle gnocchi with remaining 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan and whole sage leaves, if desired. Bake until tops of gnocchi are golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

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