Eternal City Gnocchi

“I am a Roman housewife, just what I wanted to be…. I never was part of Hollywood or anywhere else, and I’ve finally found a place that I can call home.”

Audrey Hepburn


Since my trip to Rome last year I’ve been experimenting with all food Roman, and this recipe for gnocchi is one of the best and most convenient to come out of my investigations. This isn’t Audrey Hepburn’s recipe – it’s an amalgam – but gnocchi alla romana was one of her favourite dishes to cook.

Roman gnocchi recipe
Audrey Hepburn….an ordinary Roman housewife.

Why is this gnocchi so convenient? Because in spite of virtuous trends away from carbohydrates, I find that most meals need some comforting carbohydrate element. The gnocchi make a change from the same old potatoes, rice, pasta merry-go-round and they are super-convenient because you can freeze them in squares and simply heat what’s required when you’re short of time or ideas. If you do reheat from frozen, don’t reheat slowly in a low heat, but instead, quickly, in a hot roasting oven, with a little olive oil drizzled over.

The Romans make their gnocchi alla romana not from potato but from semolina.


Recipe for gnocchi alla romana

For about four (makes 12 squares – two would be enough for me):


  • 960 ml/4 cups full milk
  • 225g/1½ cups/8 oz semolina
  • 100g/1 cup/4 oz grana Padano or Parmesan
  • 100g/4 oz/two-fifths of a brick of butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp smoked salt
  • Thyme or deep fried sage leaves


  1. Pour the milk into a large saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer
  2. Add in the semolina, mixing in with an electric whisk, and continue to whisk and cook for about ten minutes
  3. Then mix in half the cheese, half the butter, the yolks and the salt and take off the heat
  4. Pour into a shallow, lightly greased, baking tray and smooth down to a couple of centimetres (½”) of thickness
  5. Leave to cool and firm – this can take anything up to an hour. Some time into this process you might want to preheat the oven to 210°C
  6. Cut the gnocchi into 24 squares and move half to a greased baking sheet.
  7. Cut the remaining butter into small dice and divide in half.
  8. Dot one of the halves of the butter over the twelve squares of gnocchi on the baking tray
  9. Sprinkle half the remaining cheese over
  10. Cover each square on the baking tray with the remaining squares to make a kind of sandwich
  11. Dot with the remaining butter, sprinkle with the rest of the cheese
  12. Cook for 15 minutes.


The artist Francis Towne gave 75 beautifully executed watercolours of Italy to the British Museum, of which 52 are views of Rome. The watercolours are now being shown there at an exhibition called Light, time, legacy: Francis Towne’s watercolours of Rome.

Below you can see the delicacy of his style in The Tarpeian Rock.

And below that you can listen to I Lie, by David Lang, part of the score of the film La Grande Bellezza, whose beautiful cinematography is set in Rome.


roman gnocchi recipe
Francis Towne watercolours are currently on show at the British Museum



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