What are gnocchi?
Italian gnocchi [ˈɲɔkki] are small thimble-sized dumplings, usually made from steamed potatoes. Gnocchi have a typical oval shape with ridges made from the impression of a fork. They are quickly boiled in water and served with a sauce.
The name, “gnocchi” is used for both the ingredient (the dumplings) and the dish. The word probably comes from the Italian “nocca”, which means “knuckle”. Or from the Lombard “knohha”, meaning “knot” or “walnut”. No one knows for sure, but, in any case, the name refers to the shape of the dumplings: solid and round.
In Italy, gnocchi come in all shapes and sizes. The potato variety, gnocchi di patate, which we know so well, has existed since 1860. It is still made exactly as it was in the nineteenth century. Other types of gnocchi are much older. In the fifteenth century, people ate zanzarelli in Lombardy, a type of gnocchi made from breadcrumbs, milk and almond flour. And one of the first gnocchi recipes, found in a sixteenth-century cookbook, discusses dumplings of flour, breadcrumbs, and water that were pushed through the holes of a cheese grater.
As well as gnocchi di patate, there are also variants made from pasta dough, wheat flour, semolina, or even from pumpkin flesh. In Tuscany, one eats gnudi, which are ricotta gnocchi. The sauces also vary depending on the region. In Piedmont, people go for melted butter and Parmesan, while in Verona, gnocchi are served with tomato sauce. The Roman version, gnocchi alla Romana, consists of semolina slices with a creamy cheese sauce. It’s easily possible to eat a different type of gnocchi in Italy every day of the week.
Did you know?
For the tastiest, lightest gnocchi, Italian chefs use steamed potatoes instead of boiled potatoes.
How to make gnocchi
Authentic gnocchi requires the chef’s old-fashioned handiwork. Steamed potatoes are squeezed into a puree with a potato masher and kneaded with flour, salt and egg into a soft, elastic dough. The proportions are of great importance; the gnocchi should not become too hard, but you also do not want them to fall apart when you cook them. Long thin rolls are formed from this dough that look a bit like ropes. Each “rope” is cut into small cushions and each cushion is pressed slightly with the thumb. Pressing the pads against the sides of a grater or the teeth of a fork creates their characteristic ridged appearance.
The gnocchi are briefly cooked in boiling water. As soon as they float to the top, they are taken out of the pan.
How to eat
The gnocchi are served with a sauce that varies by chef and region.