Fresh Goats’ Cheese Gnocchi

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Semolina flour, from which this is made, is the name for a grade of milled wheat that can be made into a sweet or savoury porridge. Unlike polenta, the cornmeal porridge that needs to be boiled a good half hour, semolina cooks quickly and needs only be brought to the boil.

The idea here is that the cereal should be cooked with flavoursome ingredients such as cheese and eggs, allowed to set, then cut into shapes for grilling or broiling and baking. It can be served with a robust concoction of tomato and herbs, or with venison or partridge.

Ingredients

  • 500 ml (18fl oz/ cup) milk
  • a little grated nutmeg
  • 150g (5 oz/¾ cup) semolina
  • 25g (1 oz/¼ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 100 g ( oz/scant ½ cup) fresh goats’ cheese
  • oil, for greasing
  • salt and pepper

Method

In a saucepan, season the milk with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix in the semolina and bring to the boil, stirring continuously. The mixture will thicken to the point where it is almost solid. Stir in the grated Parmesan and egg.

Pour half the semolina mixture into an oiled tray. Slice the fresh goats’ cheese and lay it on top of the first layer before pouring on the remaining semolina mixture.

Heat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Cover the gnocchi with a piece of buttered greaseproof or parchment paper, or some greased plastic wrap, and place in a roasting tray half-filled with warm water. Bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the gnocchi from the oven and leave to cool. Cut it into squares – or whatever shape takes your fancy.

To gratinate, heat a frying pan and grease it with a few drops of olive oil. Add the gnocchi, stir to coat, then put the pan on the base of a hot oven for 10 minutes to give a dark golden brown crust underneath. The gnocchi are then lifted and turned upside down onto the plate to serve.

The mealtime service in restaurants has theatrical overtones. The cook makes preparations as best he or she can and hopes that everyone will really enjoy the food – not from any good-natured desire to please, rather as a reassurance that the dishes which represent all our skill and taste really are okay. We hope those dining pitch up in a steady progression rather than a cavalry charge at eight o’clock so that a decent amount of time may be given to cooking each dish. Tension rises, but also a euphoria that may switch quite quickly to anger if things go badly. What a good psychiatrist would make of it all, I’m not sure.

The set up at The Merchant House has never allowed the luxury of kitchen tantrums. Neither Anja nor our waitress would stand for it and there is, in any case, no time. Part of my tiny and invaluable cooking space is used to house a radio and CD player so there is music in the kitchen. Mozart’s operas play almost constantly, usually Don Giovanni with Figaro as second preference. This soothes when things turn difficult – those occasions when I have wrongly guessed the relative popularity of the day’s dishes and am furiously filleting extra fish, or am remaking a sauce that has become too warm and split into an unsightly mess of oil and stock.

The music also acts as barrier between my own comments and the delicate ears of customers only two metres distant who are midway through a cosy dinner and might not want to hear my forthright views on their previously unannounced allergy to everything on the menu.
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