Gnocchi (pronounced NYOK-ee) pasta is basically a thick, soft, dumpling type of pasta. You can make gnocchi from many different things. Semolina flour or unbleached flour makes a great gnocchi while potatoes, ricotta, spinach and even sweet potatoes make other kinds of delicious gnocchi. The most common way to prepare gnocchi is to combine mashed potatoes with flour, forming bite-sized balls of dough and serve them in a light butter sauce with fresh sage.

The word gnocchi is derived from the Italian word “nocchio” meaning a “knot of wood” or from “nocca” meaning knuckle. It was introduced by the Roman Legions during the expansion of the empire into the countries of the European continent. In the past 2000 years each country developed its own specific type of small dumplings, with the ancient Gnocchi as their common ancestor. In Roman times, gnocchi were made from a semolina porridge-like dough and are still found in similar forms today, particularly in Sardinia, where they are known as malloreddus.

These small dumplings are one of the oldest preparations in the history of food, recorded as far back as the cookbooks of the thirteenth century. In a fragment of a book from the 1300’s there is a recipe for gnocchi written in the Tuscan dialect of the time.

If you want gnocchi take some cheese and mash it, then take some flour and mix it with egg yolks as if you are making dough. Place a pot of water over a fire. When it starts boiling, place the mixture on a board and slide it in the pot with a spoon. When they are cooked, place them on plates and top them with a lot of grated cheese.”

Since Gnocchi simply consist of dough shaped in small dumplings and don’t need any special skill or technique to flatten or cut the dough, they are probably even older than pasta. In fact, Gnocchi has a very close link to pasta, and sometimes it is difficult to tell if a dish should be considered pasta or gnocchi. For example, orecchiette from the Apulia region are formed from a small dumpling of pasta pressed into an “ear” shape. Troffie from Liguria are made by rolling a piece of dough around a stick and served with pesto sauce.

Ricotta Gnocchi

My favorite way to prepare gnocchi is with ricotta cheese instead of potatoes. This is just as authentic as its potato relative, but lighter in texture and much easier to make.

Unlike potato gnocchi, ricotta gnocchi require no precooking (opening a container of ricotta cheese is much easier and faster than boiling, peeling and mashing a pound of potatoes) Just stir together ricotta, eggs, grated Parmesan and a little flour — just enough to bring everything together. I like to serve these with a light sauce since they are delicate in flavor, usually a little marinara or a light pesto. Choose a sauce that leaves room for to the ricotta flavor to come through and, since they are also delicate in texture, toss them lightly.

You can make the gnocchi up to 12 hours ahead, spread them out in a single layer on a floured tray, cover them with a towel, and refrigerate until needed. Handmade gnocchi cook very quickly. They should be boiled in salted water and removed with a slotted spoon just as soon as they rise to the top of the pot.

For perfect gnocchi, don’t work the dough too much and add as little flour as possible. It’s okay if the dough is a little sticky.

Ingredients for the gnocchi:

1- 15 oz. container skim milk ricotta cheese

Drain excess water from the ricotta by placing it in a colander lined with cheesecloth over a bowl and leaving it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (overnight is even better) before using.

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

To make the gnocchi:

Mix together in a large bowl, the drained ricotta cheese with 1 slightly beaten egg, Parmesan cheese and salt. Add flour and work mixture in with your hands until a soft dough is formed. If your fingers are sticky, add some more flour to your hands.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead lightly until the dough becomes smooth and firm. Be careful not to overwork it. Divide the dough into fist size pieces, and roll into long logs as thick as your thumb.

Then cut it into small 1 inch pieces.

Roll each piece under the flat part of a fork in order to create the ridges.

Place on a floured board.

To cook the gnocchi:

2 tablespoons salt

When you are ready to cook the gnocchi, bring 8 quarts of water to a boil. Add the 2 tablespoons of salt. Drop in the gnocchi and cook until they float to the surface, about 1-2 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Fold in the sauce with a rubber spatula, dilute with as much of the gnocchi water as needed to create a light sauce.

Tomato Basil Sauce                                                                                                                                                                     

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28 oz. container Pomi chopped Italian tomatoes
  • Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil


Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, season and let simmer until thickened. Stir in basil and add additional salt to taste.

Serve gnocchi with the sauce and extra grated Parmesan.

Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi Variation

  • 3 ounces frozen spinach, squeezed dry
  • 1- 15 oz. container skim milk ricotta cheese, drained overnight
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1  1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Follow directions above for making and cooking the gnocchi.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi Variation

Sweet potatoes make these gnocchi a bit sweet and full of antioxidants. Serve them as you would other gnocchi. Sweet Potato Gnocchi are particularly good simply dressed in brown butter and sage. The heartier texture of sweet potatoes means these gnocchi can be made using whole wheat pastry flour for extra fiber and nutrients.

This recipe makes a lot of gnocchi. Any extras can be laid on a baking sheet, frozen, and transferred to a resealable plastic bag and kept frozen for up to six months.


  • 2 one pound sweet potatoes, rinsed, patted dry, pierced all over with fork
  • 1  15-ounce container fresh ricotta cheese, drained in sieve 2 hours
  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling and shaping
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese


Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place sweet potatoes on plate; microwave on high until tender, about 5 minutes per side. Cut in half and cool. Scrape sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash; transfer 3 cups to large bowl. Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add Parmesan cheese and 2 teaspoons salt; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long ropes (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces. Roll each piece over tines of fork to indent. Transfer to prepared baking sheet.

Bring large pot of water to boil; add 2 tablespoons salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer gnocchi to a clean rimmed baking sheet or a serving bowl. Mix with your favorite sauce.

For another variation, I refer you to my recipe for Butternut Squash & Potato Gnocchi on the post cited below.

Marinara Sauce

Pesto Sauce