What is gnocchi?
Gnocchi, pronounced ‘n(y)oh-kee’ (singular ‘gnocco’), are a type of pasta consisting of soft, fat and chewy dumplings, typically paired with ragú, tomato or butter sauce. Traditionally, gnocchi dough is made of semolina or plain wheat flour, egg, and mashed potato. That being said, gnocchi ingredients may vary, with the additional ingredients or substitutions including cheese, vegetables, and herbs. Once the dumplings are formed, they are often pressed against a fork, or traditional gnocchi board, to form ridges that improve gnocchi’s ability to adhere to sauce, and create the signature gnocchi shape. Alternatively, the gnocchi are left as smooth-edged lumps.
Did you know, ‘gnocchi’ in Italian translates to ‘lumps’? Doesn’t sound particularly appetising, does it? While gnocchi are a traditional Italian pasta shape, what makes them distinct is that they use potatoes as the main ingredient. Therefore, they're commonly considered to be a dumpling.
Like many dishes in Italian cuisine, gnocchi vary in both name, appearance, and recipe across the regions of lo Stivale. For example, ‘malfatti’ (literally poorly made) from Tuscany are a version of gnocchi made from spinach, ricotta, and flour. Also from Tuscany, ‘gnudi’ more closely resembles traditional gnocchi, though contains less flour, resulting in a looser, less chewy dumpling.
Gnocchi: a brief history
Gnocchi originate in Northern Italy, where the colder climate rendered great potatoes, but poorer quality grain. That being said, the use of potato in Italian cuisine is a relatively recent development, since potatoes were only introduced to Europe in the 16th century. Prior to this, a rudimentary version of gnocchi was made from ingredients like zucca (meaning squash) and breadcrumbs, known as pangrattato in the native tongue. These ingredients were common in the diet of peasants, and their sum was both filling and inexpensive to produce.
Gnocchi first started being served outside the realm of cucina povera (literally, ‘poor cuisine’) as part of ‘Carnevale’ in Verona in 1531. The peak of this legendary celebration is Venerdì Gnocolar, which translates to ‘Gnocchi Friday’ in English. Taking place on the final Friday before Lent, this evening celebrates fresh gnocchi in all their delicious, pillowy glory.
Making gnocchi at home
Making gnocchi at home couldn’t be easier, with our simple homemade gnocchi recipe. We recommend picking up a potato ricer to create your gnocchi, as this will result in the smoothest dumpling. Follow the video below, and you’ll be making homemade gnocchi with ease in no time.
What are the best potatoes for gnocchi?
As with other mashed potato dishes, gnocchi are best prepared with starchy potatoes to keep a light texture. In the UK, the best varieties of potato for gnocchi are Desiree, King Edward, Maris Piper, Russet, or Vivaldi. All of the above are widely available in supermarkets across the country, too.
How should I serve gnocchi
Wondering what’s the best sauce for gnocchi? Fortunately, gnocchi is incredibly versatile, so you really can’t go wrong when choosing an accompaniment. They're robust enough to pair with a rich meat ragú or a tomato-based sauce, but are just as good with a creamy sauce or a vibrant herb pesto. If you want to keep things simple, you can always just sauté your cooked gnocchi in butter and herbs before serving.
Our favourite gnocchi recipes
From creamy sauces and bubbling baked favourites to meaty ragú, we’ve got gnocchi recipes to suit every taste. Here’s three of our favourites:
Picture-perfect Sorrento attracts travellers from all over the world, but we love it best for gnocchi alla Sorrentina (gnocchi in the Sorrento-style). Fluffy cooked gnocchi are paired with three of the region’s most famed ingredients – buffalo mozzarella, ripe tomatoes and verdant green basil – before being baked until all of the ingredients meld into a satisfying whole. Deceptively light and fresh, this is an al forno dish that’s suitable for any time of year.
This recipe pays homage to the classic Italian pairing of blue cheese and walnuts, accented here by crispy sage leaves and a grating of nutmeg. This indulgent sauce is the perfect foil for the light, toothsome gnocchi, resulting in a vegetarian recipe that everyone will be happy with.
If you’re looking for something hearty, flavoursome and deceptively simple, serve your gnocchi with our slow-cooked lamb ragú. Meat and potatoes are a match made in heaven, and this particular pairing adds a dose of Italian flair to a classic combination. The fluffy potato dumplings soak up the red wine-enriched sauce with aplomb, making for a truly comforting dish.