This fabulous semolina cake comes from Naples where it is known as Migliaccio (pudding cake) and is eaten during the Carnival celebration. It is more of a cheesecake and is flavored with cinnamon stick and lemon zest. I have fallen in love with this dish because it is so unique and not too sweet; the entire recipe only uses 1/3 cup of sugar. The ricotta and semolina flour get together to create this light, creamy treat.
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I recently finished the second book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet and am still reeling from the captivating and intense characters whose lives play out in Naples in the 1940’s – 1960’s. Ferrante gives her reader an acute sense of life in this impoverished Italian neighborhood. Elena Ferrante’s protagonist leaves the rough, violent neighborhood to attend college in Pisa and when she returns to her home, she observes how she could be easy prey as someone who has not suffered and is an outsider. I have been to Naples only briefly, but witnessed the poverty and strife. As an American tourist and person of some privilege, I stood out, felt self-conscious and became fearful as well.
However, this is just one aspect of this multifaceted city. To many visitors, Naples means pizza, fried breads, rich tomato sauces, crazy drivers and fascinating history. As I continue my studies of the south of Italy, home of my ancestors, I am drawn to the food and the people. Naples is in my blood.
In September, I will return to this crazy city with a different mindset. When my ancestors came down from their mountain village into Naples 150 years ago, I wonder what they felt. The Almafi Coast might have been the last thing they saw as the ocean liner set sail for America. I am driven to learn more.
In the meantime, let’s enjoy the food!
Semolina Cake from Naples
A Traditional Carnival cake.
- 4 cups whole milk
- 2 lemons:
- grated zest of one lemon
- lemon peel of second lemon – use a vegetable peeler to slice several strips of lemon peel being careful to leave behind the white part of the peel.
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup semolina flour
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 3 large eggs, 1 separated
- 1 2/3 cup ricotta cheese, firm, drain liquid
- powdered sugar for garnish, about 3 Tablespoons
- optional fruit preserves for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease two 9-inch pie or tart pans.
- In a large saucepan or dutch oven, add milk, cinnamon stick, sugar, strips of lemon peel and bring to a boil.
- Once the milk mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat and using a sieve or slotted spoon, remove and discard the lemon peel.
- A little at a time, add the semolina flour, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming.
- Return the pan to the heat and boil gently for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. The mixture will slowly thicken as the semolina flour is incorporated into the milk mixture. When done, it should resemble pancake batter.
- Stir in the butter, remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature.
- Once cool, stir in the 2 whole eggs and the 1 egg yolk, reserving the 1 egg white. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Add ricotta cheese, grated lemon zest and stir well.
- In a separate bowl, using electric beaters, beat the egg white until stiff and then fold into the batter.
- Pour the batter into the two pie or tart pans, dividing evenly.
- Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degree F. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. Cool before serving.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Optional: drizzle with fresh fruit preserves.
- Enjoy for dessert or serve with morning coffee or afternoon tea. La dolce vita!