It seems that nearly every nation has some form of dumpling and it’s easy to see why. They are tasty, versatile and make excellent use of leftover ingredients. In Italy, dumplings are collectively known as gnocchi and are made in several different styles. In the family run trattorias of Rome, you can sample some of the best gnocchi every Thursday night in a citywide tradition. Just like most Italian cooking, these delicious lumps do not just vary from region to region, but from household to household as well, depending upon what is available. The most common way to prepare gnocchi is to combine potatoes (boiled, peeled or mashed) with flour to form soft bite-size lumps of dough. Each gnocco is then ridged along one side like a seashell. Gnocchi also come in different sizes, with gnocchetti being the smallest version.
Other types of gnocchi are made with semolina flour, milk and cheese – also known as Gnocchi alla Romana. Some versions are made with regular flour and other kinds can be made with leftover bread. Florence’s strozzapreti are gnocchi made from a combination of spinach and ricotta. Another spinach/ricotta gnocchi is from Lombardy called malfatti, meaning “malformed”, since these gnocchi are made from leftover ravioli filling and do not have a uniform shape. What makes gnocchi so popular is its versatility – simple ingredients like potatoes and semolina flour, vegetables, mushrooms and cheeses can be combined to make endless variations.
See two of my previous posts on the different types of gnocchi and how to make them:
In early writings, gnocco (singular for gnocchi) is sometimes replaced by maccherone, a generic term for pasta. The Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini De Vita tells us that gnocchi is one of the earliest pastas and is originally a Germanic word describing the distinctive shape of gnocchi. Gnocchi was originally from the Middle East, but when the Romans explored the area, they took back with them the recipe for gnocchi. Thus, it was brought with them when they settled European land, in particular, Italy. Here, gnocchi most strongly rooted itself. Various regions began to invent their own form of the dish and introduce them to other neighboring countries. When Italians immigrated into South America by way of Argentina and North America, the recipe for gnocchi went with them.
Recipes for gnocchi have been documented back to the 1300’s. In some parts of Italy, gnocchi was made of fine durum wheat. Elsewhere, it was chestnut, rye, rice or barley flour. When poverty struck, gnocchi might mean leftovers bound with breadcrumbs. We do know that potatoes came in very late as an ingredient and were slow to gain a following. An early recipe for potato gnocchi, circa 1834, calls for just one part potato to three parts flour. It takes another century for modern gnocchi to emerge—where the potato is the main ingredient, with only enough flour to bind it into a workable dough.
Commercial gnocchi is readily available, but it’s worth the effort to make your own. Essentially, you mix cooked, riced potatoes with egg, then knead in some flour. There’s no special equipment required; the familiar grooved pattern is made with a table fork. Gnocchi’s delicate flavor pairs well with robust sauces, from tomato to pesto to gorgonzola. Because they cook more quickly than traditional pasta, gnocchi are a great meal idea for weeknights. Just keep an eye on them, because as soon as they float to the top, they’re ready to sauce and serve!
While gnocchi are simple enough to make from scratch, there are several varieties that can be found pre-made in supermarkets or in Italian specialty stores. Pre-packaged gnocchi, depending upon ingredients, can be found fresh (refrigerated) or frozen. Pre-packaged gnocchi should not be avoided since there are several very good brands. When buying gnocchi in the store, look for the “fresh” looking kind in the refrigerated section (usually next to the fresh pasta), preferably in a well-sealed or vacuum container. The package should be heavy for its size, as dense gnocchi will be less likely to fall apart when cooking. There are also several brands of frozen gnocchi that cook up well, so long as they remain frozen before dropping them in the boiling water, otherwise they will turn into soggy mashed potatoes if allowed to thaw.
Gnocchi in the dried pasta section is usually of the semolina variety, but you may also find vacuum-sealed potato gnocchi as well. Dried semolina gnocchi are convenient and can be tasty, but its taste and texture resembles more of a pasta than fresh semolina gnocchi. With dried potato gnocchi, there just does not seem to be enough moisture left in the dumplings, making them lighter than other varieties. Because of this lack of moisture, the gnocchi tend to fall apart somewhat and often loose their shape. The rule of thumb for buying gnocchi is: get the closest thing to making it yourself – fresh/refrigerated or frozen.
Making Homemade Gnocchi
- 2 1/2 lbs potatoes
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup or more for the work surface
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
A General Rule of Thumb: 1 medium-sized potato per serving or person. For every potato, you want to use approximately 1/2 cup of flour.
First, clean and peel potatoes. Remove any brown spots. Cut potatoes into 1” cubes; be sure to cut them into cubes consistent in size so that they cook evenly. Place cut potatoes in a medium-sized pot; fill with water just to cover. Add salt and cover with a lid. Stirring occasionally, boil potatoes for about 20 minutes or until fork tender. Over-boiling will cause potatoes to become mushy and too wet.
Drain the potatoes well. Allow them to cool in a colander. Rice potatoes using a potato ricer into a kitchen towel to remove excess water.
Combine potatoes, 2 ½ cups flour, egg and salt in the work bowl of a processor. Pulse just until the dough comes together.
Once the dough come together, turn out onto a floured board (using as much of the ½ cup flour as needed) and knead into a wide rectangle shape.
Cut the dough into about 8 pieces, 4 inches long.
For shorter, heavy gnocchi, roll dough into thick ropes and cut into 1-inch pieces.
Use a fork to make ridges on the side of each gnocchi.
For thinner gnocchi, roll long ropes. Cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces and place on a floured tray. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
Note: While you are shaping gnocchi, finished gnocchi should be kept on a heavily floured tray as to prevent sticking together. Also, keep them in a cool place until ready to cook for no longer than 45 minutes or else place them in the freezer.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add salt and then gnocchi. Gnocchi are finished once they float to the top, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and toss in a saucepan with your favorite sauce.
For best taste and texture, allow gnocchi to “sit” in their sauce once cooked for about 5 minutes.
Serves 4 to 6
Fresh Peas with Lettuce and Gnocchi
- 1 (16-ounce) package frozen potato gnocchi or homemade
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons minced onion
- 1 head Boston or other loose-leaf lettuce
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 4 cups frozen peas, thawed
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook gnocchi until they float to the top; drain and keep warm.
Place butter in a large, heavy pan; heat over medium heat until melted. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
Wash lettuce and trim away the stalk end. Shake water off lettuce (it’s OK if some water remains) and add to the pan. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the peas. Cook about 3 minutes or until the peas are warm.
Remove pea mixture from the pan and keep warm. Add cream to the pan and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Return pea mixture to the pan, add gnocchi and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.
Gnocchi with Italian Sausage
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 teaspoon loose saffron threads
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
- 26-28 oz container of Italian diced tomatoes
- 1 (1-pound) package potato gnocchi or homemade
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add the garlic and sausage. Saute, stirring frequently, until the sausage is cooked through. Add the saffron threads, basil and diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and continue simmering for about 15-20 minutes or until slightly thickened.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi to the boiling water and cook gnocchi until they float to the top. Once finished, drain and toss with the sauce in the saucepan for about 2 minutes to coat. Serve topped with Pecorino Romano cheese.
Chicken and Gnocchi Soup
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup finely diced onion
- 1/2 cup finely diced celery
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 quart milk
- 1 (14-ounce) can low sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup finely shredded carrots
- 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh spinach leaves
- 1 cup diced cooked chicken breast
- 1 (16-ounce) package gnocchi or homemade
Melt the butter into the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth followed by the milk. Simmer until thickened.
Stir in a 1/2 teaspoon salt, the thyme, nutmeg, carrots, spinach, chicken and gnocchi. Simmer until the soup is heated through.
- How to Make Potato Gnocchi at Home (memoriediangelina.com)
- Gnocchi (spadeforkspoon.wordpress.com)
- #212 I miss gnocchi – 1 (misshome.wordpress.com)
- egg-less gnocchi in spicy tomato sauce (bitebymichelle.com)
- Homemade Vegan Butternut Squash Gnocchi (amandascorener.com)
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.
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.
- Meatless Monday Recipes: Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Walnut Sage Sauce courtesy of inSHAPE (thefoodiejournal.com)
- Recipe of the Week: Ricotta Gnocchi with Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Toasted Walnuts (dualshow.com)
- Pumpkin Gnocchi with Spinach and Green Chilli Basil Oil (foodblogandthedog.wordpress.com)
- For the Love of Gnocchi (wordswewomenwrite.wordpress.com)
- Butternut Squash Gnocchi (putneyfarm.com)
- How to Make Gnocchi (blondexambition.wordpress.com)
- Gnocchi: a tradition that evolved with time (languagesalive.wordpress.com)
- Gnocchi w/ Broccoli & Carrots in Garlic & Oil (themodernhomekitchen.wordpress.com)