Ingredient: A Quick Shout-Out to Semolina
A few months ago, when I was about to move to New York, I decided to clean out my parents’ pantry of all the things that had been sitting on the shelves for years (not hyperbole) and would most likely be doomed to sit there for many more. I snatched some canned jellies, pickles, pastes, pates, spices, curds, and pastas, knowing they would never be missed. I’ve been slowly working my way through my parents’ pantry here in Brooklyn, and I’m often grateful for that swiped can of anchovies (sorry, mom, I know you would have probably used those) or am inspired by a bag of chocolate pasta I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to buy. Sometimes the food has been sitting around so long it’s already stale – I’ve eaten some disappointing packets of oatmeal, slurped stale Ramen soup, and given away old-tasting pretzels to my less discerning roommates. But so far, the best find from the pantry has been semolina flour.
I had never eaten semolina flour before yesterday. My roommate and I had gone to a kegger in Williamsburg with free Kombucha and free Sixpoint beer, and by the time we left we were feeling hungry and tired after long days. In the mood for a movie and comfort food. I remembered a recipe from last month’s Bon Appétit that I had wanted to try – deep fried eggs with sriracha remoulade, which sounded like the bastion of comfort food: warm, soft-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, spice, pickles, and fried goodness. So I picked up a six-pack of Sierra Nevada at the corner Bodega and made small talk with the owner, who was feeling glum about spending his Friday night stuck under fluorescent lights.
Back at the apartment, I found my neighbor on the couch and told her she was going to have to stay for deep fried eggs even though she had work to do. So we put on Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dace With Somebody,” which is perfect comfort food-making music, and set about whipping up a remoulade and boiling eggs.
I’ve almost forgotten that I’m supposed to be telling you about how great semolina is. Here’s where it figures in this story: our soft boiled eggs were first rolled in a mixture of white flour and semolina flour, dunked in a blend of buttermilk, egg, and sriracha, and then covered with panko and salt.
Almost everything I’ve ever tried to deep fry has ended up tasting embarrassing, but last night it was as if deep-fry gods had smiled upon the Whitney and the Sierra Nevada and the good company. The eggs were perfect – light brown, crunchy fried crust, which, when cracked open hissed out steam and molten yolk.
Comfort food brought to you by semolina (and eggs and sriracha and mayonnaise and fried goodness). But anyway – that’s not how I really discovered the goodness of semolina. That’s just why I happened to open the bag.
Today, as I was cleaning up the kitchen, something which clearly didn’t happen last night, I saw a recipe on the back of the semolina for breakfast porridge, which involved emptying the whole pack in two liters of boiling water. Not so practical. But, using my cook’s intuition, I figured the standard two parts water to one part grain ratio would work relatively well. So as I made my morning cappuccino, I set a pot of water to boil, and when it was bubbling, added the semolina flour. Which, contrary to the instructions on the package (five minutes), cooked in about five seconds. The ratio was a little off – semolina requires about an extra ¼ – ½ cup of water, but I managed to smooth out most of the lumps. The result, plus milk, butter, and brown sugar, was a creamy, sweet porridge that was truly comforting to eat. Sort of like a cream of wheat that tastes more of mornings in the country and less of old people.
And to wrap up the whole semolina story, for lunch I threw the leftover cooked semolina (I couldn’t eat it all in porridge), in a skillet with green onions and mushrooms, and topped it with a fried egg and shavings of grated Sicilian black pepper cheese. Delicious.
So semolina, the grain I tried for the first time yesterday, has featured in my last three meals in three very different ways. From creamy to crunchy, to crisped – this versatile staple might just be my new comfort food.