semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut, butter beans and spinach-almond-asparagus pesto

Semolina dumplings with roasted butternut and butter beans

Semolina dumplings with roasted butternut and butter beans

“I doe now publish my Essayes; which, of all my other works, have been most Currant: For that, as it seems, they come home, to Mens Businesse, and Bosomes.” This is how Francis Bacon prefaces The Essays: or Counsels, Civil and Moral. I have a beautiful copy of this book, and I love the form of it. It is, simply, a series of short essays: Of Truth, Of Death, Of Unity in Religion, Of Revenge, Of Adversity, Of Simulation and Dissimulation, Of Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Envy, Of Love and so on and on it goes. And I love the tone of it. It’s quite matter-of-fact, he’s stating truths as he believes them, and he makes the truths sound incontrovertible, but we also feel that he hasn’t arrived at them lightly. He’s thought and thought on these subjects, and considered all of the facets and vagaries of them. And though he sounds sure of himself, he hasn’t sealed his mind on any of these ideas. He’s thinking on them still. We feel that he would agree with James Baldwin and with me that “…all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.” My favorite essay is the first, On Truth. You can tell that he loves truth as a thing, almost as a person. He loves the search for truth, “…yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature.” And just as a hope is a place, so is truth, “It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling, or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.” He talks about poetry being the shadow of a lie, which adds some beauty to the truth, and he talks about lies such as “vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like,” as saving men’s minds from becoming “poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition.” In just this way he mixes wild, poetical language with the more staid and scholarly, and helps us to see not just the matter of his text, but his passion for it as well. I’d like to write a book of essays like this. I’d like to see everybody do it! We could pick the topics, of course, according to our interests, but we’d keep the essays short and fierce and thoughtful, like these are. We’d look at the world around us and decide what questions are important to ask, and then we’d spend time thinking about these questions, and then we’d write it all down. Not the answers to the questions, because there are no answers, but we’d write all of the ways we’ve been thinking about it, the truths that we have wooed. We’d share our truths with each other, and see that our truths aren’t the only ones, and that would make us seek not just the truth of our own little world, but of the great and common world, the whole round world.



Semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut squash, butter beans and asparagus almond pesto

Semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut squash, butter beans and asparagus almond pesto

Speaking of round! I made this ring of semolina dumplings, which are puffy and soft and comforting. Then I filled the center with butternut squash roasted with herbs, butter beans and mozzarella…all soft and creamy and sweet and roasty. And I topped the whole thing off with a bright, green, vegetal, lemony pesto of spinach, almonds and asparagus. This meal has layers. It didn’t take long to make, and it was a nice complex but comforting winter meal.

Here’s some more Gary Davis for you.


1 cup water
1 cup milk
1 t dried basil
1/2 t salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup regular flour
4 T butter
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 425 and coat a medium-sized round baking sheet or cake pan lightly with olive oil.

Warm the water and milk with the herbs, salt and pepper till just boiling, over medium-high heat.

Add the semolina and flour, and stir till well mixed. Continue stirring as it thickens. In a few minutes it should be quite thick – it will be able to support your spoon.

Take it off the heat and beat in the butter, then the eggs one at a time.

Drop by mounded tablespoons in a circle on your tray, and smooth some batter into the center of the circles. Everything doesn’t need to touch, it will grow as it cooks and come together.

Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for about 15 – 20 minutes till they’re puffed and crispy, and golden brown on the outside.


1 medium-sized butternut squash
3 or 4 fresh sage leaves, chopped or 1 t dried
1 t rosemary
olive oil to coat
1 can butter beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese grated or cut into tiny dice

Peel and de-seed the squash. Chop it into 1/3 inch dice. Toss it with olive oil and herbs, and spread in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Roast 30 – 40 minutes, until it’s soft inside and crispy and browned outside. Stir frequently. Let cool slightly, and then mix in a large bowl with the butter beans and the mozzarella.

Pile this inside the dumpling ring, and bake for a further 10 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve with…


1 medium-sized bunch asparagus
1 T olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t fresh thyme
1 t fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cups baby spinach
3/4 cups sliced almonds
2 T olive oil
juice of half a lemon
salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper

Wash the asparagus and chop off the thick tough ends. Chop the rest into 1-inch long pieces.

Warm 1 T of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, thyme and rosemary, and cook for about a minute until the garlic starts to brown. Add the asparagus and stir and cook for a minute or tow, and then add a few tablespoons of water and cover. Cook until the asparagus is tender, a few minutes or more, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Add the spinach, and stir and cook until the spinach is wilted.

In a food processor, whiz the almonds until they’re roughly ground. Add everything else and process until you have a coarse, chunky paste. Add a tablespoon or two of water, and process to mix it in. You can make it as smooth as you like it, I wanted mine to have some texture.


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