Italian tradition: A brief history of gnocchi
Gnocchi (pronounced “gn(y)-OK-ee”) are soft dumplings, usually made of potato, semolina or wheat flour. The name may refer to nocca (knuckles), or a regional word meaning “knot” or “walnut” – a reference to the shape of the pasta, just like farfalle (“butterflies”) or conchiglie (“shells”).
The original handmade gnocchi (made of bread, milk and almonds) was an aristocratic delicacy – a dish you might find at a fancy Renaissance banquet. With the introduction of potatoes to Italy around the seventeenth century, gnocchi evolved into the popular dish we know and love today.
While gnocchi is eaten all over Italy, and every region has its own version, this Italian pasta is particularly popular in northern Italy, in regions such as Lombardia. It’s a traditional dish that’s also warm and filling – the perfect winter meal!
Just like other pasta dishes, there are countless sauce combinations for gnocchi, but butter and sage or pesto are particularly popular. In southern Italy look out for gnocchi alla sorrentina, made with tomato sauce and fresh basil.
Italian recipes: How to make gnocchi at home
This is one of the simplest (and tastiest!) Italian recipes for pasta.
1 kg potatoes
300 gr all-purpose flour
Recipe for handmade Italian gnocchi (serves 4)
1. Prepare the potatoes. Put the potatoes in a big pan filled with cold water. Once the water is boiling, wait for about 30-40 minutes (depending on the size of the potatoes). When they’re soft enough for a fork to enter easily, they’re ready. Drain and peel the potatoes while they’re still warm.
2. Make the mix. Pour the flour onto a large surface like a table. Mash the potatoes (using a potato ricer) and mix them with the flour, along with a lightly beaten egg and a pinch of salt.
3. Use your hands. Mix the ingredients together thoroughly using your hands, until you’ve made a soft, compact ball of dough.
4. Divide up the dough. Separate the dough into long strands (2cm in thickness). If necessary, sprinkle some more flour onto the strands as you work. Cover the big piece of dough with a cloth to prevent it from drying out.
5. Make the dumplings. Cut the strands of dough into small dumplings. Slide each dumpling onto a fork and squeeze gently. Sprinkle the dumplings with flour to prevent them from sticking together.
6. Cook the gnocchi. Pour them into a pot of salted, boiling water. As soon as you see them float to the top (usually after a couple of minutes), they’re ready to drain, mix with a sauce and eat!
If you plan to make the handmade Italian gnocchi and then set them to one side before cooking and eating, once you’ve made the dumplings, put them in a covered container. Make sure the dumplings are separated from each other, so they don’t stick together.
The sauce is up to you. For a quick and easy meal, try heating up a bit of butter in a pan, mixed with some ripped sage leaves, or else mixing the gnocchi with some warmed up pesto.
Where to eat handmade Italian gnocchi and other Italian pasta in Rome
For a taste of Italian tradition, try gnocchi in Rome on a Thursday – the traditional day for gnocchi. Many trattorias will only serve gnocchi on Thursdays. If you don’t see it on the menu, ask!
These restaurants in Rome are renowned for traditional Italian pasta, particularly gnocchi:
· Trattoria Sora Lella. This famous restaurant on the Tiber Island does excellent gnocchi all’amatriciana (with tomato sauce, guanciale and pecorino cheese)
· Roscioli. Halfway between a restaurant and a delicatessen, this cosy eatery near Campo de’ Fiori serves gnocchi with Roman sauces such as amatriciana and cacio e pepe.
· Etabli. For gourmet gnocchi with unusual sauces, like clams and truffles, head to Etabli, an atmospheric restaurant tucked away in a side street near Piazza Navona.
· Trattoria dell’Omo. This old-school Roman trattoria is a short walk from Termini station and offers generous portions of homemade ravioli and gnocchi with traditional sauces.