Semolina might sound specialty, but it’s more familiar than you may think—remember Cream of Wheat? Or perhaps you buy dry pasta or couscous; you’ll find semolina there, too, since its firm texture and golden color have made it the go-to for commercial production.
Simply, semolina is a type of durum wheat flour: durum being the hardest of all wheat varieties, known amongst growers for its strength and high protein content. Its name denotes that it’s ground coarse into a sandy texture, as opposed to finely milled, and when paired with cheese, it’s easy to please.
Semolina yields smooth, elastic dough that’s easy to shape—which means it’s perfect for pasta. “Great Italian pasta needs semolina,” says Cameron Grant, partner and executive chef at Chicago’s Animale. For their signature dish, Grant harkens back to his time in northern Italy, stuffing hand-pinched ravioli with one of his favorites: La Tur from Piedmont. Crafted from a mix of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk, the moist, cakey, young cheese creates “little pillows of heaven,” says Grant.
Semolina is the basis, also, of rustic, Roman-style gnocchi, forming rounds that are more like dumplings than their potato-based brethren. For gnocchi alla romana, the doughy disks are classically topped with Parmigiano Reggiano—but for an oomph of umami, opt for beefy Taleggio instead.
Caseificio dell’Alta Langa La Tur + ravioli
Taleggio PDO + gnocchi alla romana
Made with an unleavened mix of all-purpose flour and semolina, the Italian carta di musica straddle the line between cracker and flatbread—but the crisps are ready for cheese either way. Stretched translucent enough to read music through—hence the name, Italian for “sheet of music”—then baked on hot stone, steam puffs them up so they’re light yet crunchy, with enticing pockets of air. Creamy cheese lends contrast: Reach for a milky stracchino-style like buffalo’s milk Casatica, or a spreadable chèvre, drizzled with olive oil. Crackers from Arizona’s Hayden Flour Mills are even more semolina-centric. With just three ingredients (stone-ground semolina, oil, and salt), semolina’s nutty richness shines. Pair with smoked gouda to round out the crunch, suggests Hayden Flour Mills’ Jeff Zimmerman.
Quattro Portoni Casatica + carta di musica
Maple Leaf Smoked Gouda + Hayden Flour Mills Blue Beard Semolina crackers
Semolina pudding has ties to many culinary traditions: India’s sooji halwa mixes semolina with ghee and a topping of nuts and raisins, while German griessbrei, like British milk pudding, adds just sugar and milk. But it’s the Middle Eastern halawet el smeed that’s a real cheese champ—versions of this dish are cooked with sugar and butter, topped with nuts, and finished with white, melting cheese for a kick of salt. Nabulsi cheese veers traditional, but if it’s tough to track down, mozzarella will do, too.
Borrow from American cheesy grits or Italian polenta for a savory take. Stir semolina into heated milk with a pinch of salt, cook until thickened, then finished with grated parm.
BelGioioso Mozzarella Pearls + semolina pudding
Schuman Cheese Cello Copper Kettle Parmesan + semolina pudding
Photography by FotografiaBasica/iStockphoto.com