Serious Eats: Recipes

Seriously Italian: Semolina and Sesame Grissini

Editor's note: On Thursdays, Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma checks in with Seriously Italian. After a stint in Rome, she's back in the States, channeling her inner Italian spirit via recipes and intel on delicious Italian eats. Take it away, Gina!

"It's like an extra serving of the best part of bread; the brown, crunchy, sesame-coated crust in concentrated form."

Semolina, or semola, is the pale golden, coarsely ground flour made from durum wheat, the hardest and most flavorful wheat grown in Italy. I love the distinct color and faintly sweet taste it imparts to breads, pastas and biscotti, especially in combination with the toasty flavor of sesame seeds. Semolina-sesame loaves are usually what I reach for when buying Italian bread, and I'm really wild about this combination in a breadstick, or grissini in Italian. It's like an extra serving of the best part of bread; the brown, crunchy, sesame-coated crust in concentrated form.

Hard durum wheat is cultivated throughout Italy, and is an important crop for southern regions of Basilicata, Calabria, Molise and especially Puglia, known as "the bread basket of Italy." Durum wheat fields cover the Pugliese plains, with the gentle breezes of the Adriatic Sea and the fertile soil combining to produce the flavorful wheat that is ground into flour for the pasta mills of Bari and bread bakers of Altamura.

Finding Italian semolina flour is not hard in the New York area, or in any part of the country with Italian specialty stores; you can even shop for it online. I found my bag in a supermarket in the Bronx, and you can definitely find it, or order it at Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market.

We are big into secret snacking in my house, always poking around the kitchen for an illicit nosh. I'm not entirely sure why in-between meal bites are so taboo, especially since we're all adults, but somehow it still holds the same allure as it did back in the day, when my brother, sister and I would mount full-on searches for our hidden Halloween candy.

These days, breadsticks are the best nibbles to have on hand for secretive munching. When faced with a mini-interrogation, ("What are you doing in there? Did I hear the refrigerator open?") you can easily slide a breadstick up your shirt and calmly walk away with your head held high. Shoving a couple of olives and a hunk of cheese in your pocket helps round things out, but if the breadstick is yummy enough, it stands on its own to satisfy cravings and a gurgling tummy. The only trouble with these is that they may leave a trail of sesame seeds.

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