The history of Italian gnocchi may be attributed to a number of different sites. While most people associate these dumplings with northern Italy, they can be found all over the peninsula in various forms, made with a variety of base ingredients depending on where they are made: flour, corn meal, semolina, bread, chestnut flour, ricotta, or vegetables ranging from pumpkin to spinach to the traditional potato.

The name “gnocchi” conjures up memories of potato gnocchi in Italy. Toppings include tomato sauce, meat sauce, basil pesto, cheese fondue, tomato and mozzarella, or plain brown butter and sage, depending on local gourmet preferences.

Even though they are the most well-known, potato gnocchi are not the only or even the first: the arrival of tubers in Europe took centuries, but the Romans had previously mixed water and flour to produce balls that were then cooked in boiling water.

The term gnocchi derives from the old Lombard phrase knohha, which meant “knot” and was used to describe any round ball of dough. Many countries disagree about the origins of this pasta shape, and regional variations abound.

What Is Gnocchi?

The most well-known and well-loved potato gnocchi are from the sixteenth or, more likely, seventeenth century, long after Spanish explorers introduced potatoes from South America to Italian chefs.

Other forms of gnocchi, on the other hand, have been available as an elegant meal to serve at banquet tables for special occasions since the Renaissance.

In fifteenth-century Lombardy, zanzarelli was a type of gnocchi made from bread, milk, and crushed almonds. Bartolomeo Scappi’s 1570 cookbook has a recipe for “gnocchi” made from a dough of flour and breadcrumbs mixed with water and pushed through the holes of a cheese grater.

After adding egg, flour, and water to the recipe a few years later, it was named malfatti. Tuscans still refer to their spinach and ricotta dumplings as gnudi, which literally means “badly cooked.”

In the nineteenth century, Pellegrino Artusi, renowned as the “grandfather” of Italian cuisine, published a recipe for potato gnocchi that included a storey about a woman whose gnocchi evaporated in the pot she was cooking them in because she didn’t use enough flour to keep them together.

After shaping his gnocchi into pinky-sized pieces, he scrapes them on the back of a cheese grater for texture.

Using the tines of a fork or a certain wooden implement to create that texture helps give the generally smooth dumplings little nooks and crannies where sauce may hide, assuring full flavour with every bite.

Where Is Gnocchi From?

gnocchi in Italy

Every area of Italy, particularly in the north, has its distinct gnocchi style and sauce. Potato gnocchi dressed with a simple butter and Parmesan salad or a creamy, cheesy sauce put on a grill to brown the top before dishing can be found in Piedmont or Lombardy.

Potato gnocchi is a traditional Carnival meal in Verona, dating back to the 1500s.

Gnocchi is also known as “macaroni” in Venice. They’re made using a flour, milk, and egg foundation that’s cooked and moulded into little discs, then baked with butter and cheese.

Round, flat discs of cooked and cooled semolina are virtually identical to Lazio’s famed gnocchi alla romana.

On the coast of Sorrento, potato gnocchi cooked in the oven with a vibrant tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil is a traditional Sunday lunch: gnocchi alla sorrentina.

The gnocchi family is enormous, and when you look at the bigger picture, you can see that these recipes especially the early bread-and-flour versions are in many ways forerunners of pasta.

However, even more than pasta, this simple and popular meal has mostly remained a handcrafted dish, retaining Italian culinary traditions.

The most well-known is potato gnocchi, which is more “traditional” in that sense. There are different regional types of gnocchi in Italy, depending on where you are or who you ask. Gnocchi alla Romana, for example, is a Roman dish made with semolina.

It’s first cooked on the stovetop, then flattened, cut into discs, and placed in a baking dish to bake.

Other choices include ricotta gnocchi and Sardinian gnocchi (also known as malloreddus). The latter is made using durum wheat semolina and a hint of saffron for a thicker, more toothsome pasta.

How To Serve Gnocchi?

While the traditional tomato sauce and gnocchi combination may be recognisable, gnocchi may be used in a number of ways.

The most common way to serve them in Italy is with a light butter sauce and fresh sage. In a light butter or extra virgin olive oil base, toss gnocchi with small savoury ingredients like toasted pine nuts, mushrooms, and a splash of cream.

Gnocchi Malloreddus, or gnocchi with a thick sausage rag, is a traditional Sardinian dish that makes a hearty winter meal. Another fantastic option to warm up is to make a baked gnocchi dish with your favourite cheeses and veggies, as well as sausage, prosciutto, or pancetta.

For a change of pace from tomato-based sauces, try gnocchi with a light cream sauce and your favourite seasonal veggies, like our Lemon Gnocchi with Peas and Spinach.

However, don’t forget about the pesto! Pesto made with basil or sun-dried tomatoes gives gnocchi a fresh edge without adding to the cooking time.

Combine big grape tomatoes, basil pesto, and fresh mozzarella in a salad for a colourful summer side.

Gnocchi alla salvia (sage gnocchi) is an Italian favourite because sage and potatoes work so well together. Traditional foods frequently include sage, butter, salt, and pepper.

This recipe, on the other hand, browns the butter and incorporates garlic for a more nutty flavour. Top with shaved Parmesan cheese if desired. Delizioso.

Because of their sweetness, fresh flavour, and vibrant smell, carrots make a fantastic addition to tomato pasta sauce.

Because the carrot is pureed, it won’t be visible in the sauce, but it will provide depth to your spaghetti sauce that you’ll notice. A milder flavour like this is great since you don’t want the gnocchi to be overpowering.

Purists define pesto as a sauce made with basil, olive oil, pine nuts, Parmesan, and garlic. These days, however, you may use any leafy green (spinach, parsley, mint, and so on) and any nut (walnuts, pistachios, or almonds).

While traditional pesto is made with hard Parmesan cheese derived from cow’s milk, you may alternatively use gentler cheeses such as goat or sheep’s milk alternatives.

In a food processor, blend the greens, garlic, and almonds until smooth, then add the oil and cheese. To keep the vivid colour, heat it quickly, then taste and adjust for consistency and flavour before tossing in the cooked gnocchi to serve.

If you’re going to use alternative components, stick to the proportions used in a traditional basil pesto sauce recipe.

All of the sauces we’ve discussed so far have a fall or winter feel to them. Allow us to dispel the myth that gnocchi is only eaten in the winter.

This spring-inspired gnocchi sauce, made with peas, broccoli, and mushrooms, may be made with any vegetables you have on hand. A primavera sauce has the benefit of being flexible to whatever is available at the time.

On the other option, frozen veggies will suffice. Despite the lack of butter and Parmesan, the basil and nutritional yeast in this vegan primavera sauce add a lot of flavour. Simply omit the pasta and replace it with egg-free vegan gnocchi.

Simply sauté the veggies in olive oil until they’re crisp and vibrantly coloured if you prefer a simpler primavera sauce.

Then top with a dollop of cream, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or even a piece of butter. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese on top of the cooked gnocchi.

Rick Zullo

Former doctor, current science teacher, and life-long food lover, Rick's passion for Mediterranean cuisine was ignited while living as an expat in Rome, Italy. 


{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Get this Free Recipe Book!

From a family-owned organic farm in Italy