Make a comforting, savory porridge for light suppers on cool nights

By Evan Kleiman

A comforting and savory porridge is made for light suppers on cool nights. Photo by Evan Kleiman/KCRW

If I’ve eaten a good meal for lunch, sometimes I crave something very simple for dinner. And these days that means easy-to-make and warming, because yes, we live in Southern California, but 40-something degrees is cold here. So the other evening, I was scrolling through ideas in my head. Should I have pasta of some kind? No, I had some the other night. Soup, again? Nah, I’ve been eating soup three out of seven nights. I finally gave in to the idea of breakfast for dinner, and had my hand on a bag of Scottish oats when I spied the semolina right next to it. I thought to myself: I can make a porridge from semolina with milk and parmesan, and add an egg for richness, the first step in making gnocchi alla Romana. 

Semolina is the beautiful light yellow flour made from durum wheat or triticum durum, a hard spring wheat with a high protein content. It’s mostly used for making dry pasta. Ground into flour of differing granulations, some nearly as coarse as polenta, and my favorite, super fine. It's also wonderful for making bread, cakes, and the strangely named gnocchi alla Romana. Strange because they aren’t gnocchi or dumplings in the usual sense of a shaped batter or dough that is simmered and served with a sauce. Gnocchi alla Romana begins as a stiff porridge that is cut into disks and baked.

Here are golden circles of semolina-based gnocchi alla Romana fresh from the oven. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

If you grew up eating the hot cereal Farina or Cream of Wheat, you were eating a cousin to a semolina porridge, which is what I decided to eat, not gnocchi alla Romana. The porridge is similar to eating a bowl of soft polenta with cheese but much quicker to make and well, not corn. The porridge is so easy to make, just heat milk to a simmer, maybe with a little butter and a few scrapes of nutmeg, then add the semolina while stirring. I like to add a little at a time so I can decide how thick I want my porridge. You can add more to make it thicker, as you can see I did in the photo above. Off the heat, I added a handful of grated parmesan and an egg, which I beat in. I scooped the porridge into a bowl, topped it with a little bit more grated cheese, then curled up on the couch and had dinner. From idea to eating, it took about 15 minutes.  

If you choose to continue past the porridge and make gnocchi alla Romana, this is what you do: Cut out cooled semolina batter into discs. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

These gnocchi make a wonderful side dish instead of potatoes or rice if you’re serving meat or fish. They’re a terrific light dinner accompanied by a salad. They can be made in advance and baked later. And no, I never serve gnocchi alla Romana with a tomato sauce.

Gnocchi alla Romana


  • 1 quart of whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter (optional), divided
  • Salt to taste
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg or 4 scrapes of a nutmeg
  • 1 ½  cups fine semolina flour
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano plus more for garnish
  • 2 egg yolks


  1. Heat the milk in a saucepan with half the butter, salt, and nutmeg. When the butter melts and the milk begins to bubble around the sides of the pan, add the semolina in a continuous rain while you stir or whisk continuously. Cook over low heat until the mass begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the parmigiano and egg yolks. Stir vigorously.
  2. Rinse a rimmed baking sheet with cold water and just shake it dry. You still want the metal to have a few droplets of moisture. Using a silicone spatula, spread the batter onto the pan to an even ½” thickness. If you want to make the dish in advance, you can cover and refrigerate at this point for up to two days. Once it cools, which happens quickly, cut out 2-3” discs with a biscuit cutter, and lay them in overlapping circles in an oven to table dish. I usually put the leftover pieces made by cutting out the circles in the dish as a bottom layer, then layer the circles on top. Some people brush the top with melted butter. But do sprinkle a healthy amount of grated cheese on top, then bake in a 400-degree oven, bubbling and golden brown with a few darker spots here and there.