Italy has an extensive repertoire of delicious and typical dishes. When you ask people to identify traditional Italian dishes, pasta, pizza, and risotto are the preparations that take all the attention, and seldom the gnocchi receives a word.
Believe it or not, gnocchi is older than pasta. It is one of the Italian staple foods. Besides, it is not pasta; even when it is grouped in that way on restaurant menus and in people’s beliefs.
People tend to call gnocchi pasta because it looks like pasta, it is cooked like pasta, and it is eaten with sauces like pasta. But, gnocchi is dumplings made from potatoes and durum wheat semolina. Some variations include eggs and ricotta cheese.
Tracing gnocchi origins
It is difficult to identify the origins of gnocchi. There are diverse legends claiming to be the birthplace of this delightful preparation.
The truth is that it remains uncertain and lost in the past. However, these stories provide an approach to gnocchi creation.
Gnocchi is possibly the most antique Italian dish, back to the I Century BC. Marco Gavius Apicius is said to be the writer of the first official recipe for gnocchi in the book “The Re Coquinaria.”
This recipe was not exactly like the one known today. It was fried dough made from semolina flour, milk or water, honey, and black pepper.
Another history told the term gnocchi originated during the reign of the Sforza family in the mid-14th century. Gnocchi resulted from the Lombard word Knohha. It means the knot, refereeing to its shape. This version included ground almonds, breadcrumbs, milk, and Cacio Lodigiano cheese.
The most popular gnocchi history was born in Verona, where there is a festivity called Gnocchi Friday (Venerdì gnocolar). The legend remembered the famine in this Italian city by the year 1531.
During this tough period, a noble physician, Tommaso da Vico, wanted to avoid a revolt in the population. His idea consisted in giving poor people supplies of staple food. They included ingredients for making gnocchi: flour, butter, cheese, and wine.
Da Vico died the same year, but he stated in his will that people must receive the ingredients for making gnocchi on the last Friday of the carnival. As a commemoration, the Bacanal del gnoco was born. It is a fantastic feast where gnocchi plays the principal role.
The born of potato-based gnocchi
The modern version of gnocchi started in the 18th century when potatoes were introduced to the region. This tuber was used more and more in Italian cuisine until it reached the traditional gnocchi recipe.
The incorporation of potatoes reduced the use of flour and gave the gnocchi a softer texture and richer flavor.
Nowadays, potatoes and gnocchi are considered the typical Italian recipe. Many variations of this basic formula were created depending on each Italian region.
The most popular recipes include:
- Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina: From the coast of Sorrento. Potatoes gnocchi served with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil.
- Gnocchi Alla Romana: The popular dish from Rome is prepared with semolina flour, seasoned with pecorino cheese, and drizzled with butter.
- Pumpkin Gnocchi: A dish from Piedmont where pumpkin gives an extra soft texture and a light orange color to the dough. It is cooked with sage and butter.
Ways of enjoying gnocchi
Traditionally, people eat gnocchi as an entrée or a complete meal for lunch or dinner. However, this dish is so versatile that you can enjoy it as breakfast or a snack.
An option for breakfast is gnocchi cooked in a skillet with bacon, sausage, and eggs. Or try the gnocchi with roasted tomatoes, eggs, and chives.
As a snack, enjoy churro-style gnocchi bites; or a savory snack version with gnocchi bites accompanied by your choice sauce.
Give it a try and enjoy gnocchi differently by cooking the following recipe. You can prepare homemade gnocchi or use a package of fresh potato gnocchi.
Toasted Gnocchi Bites
Ingredients (4 servings):
- 1 package of potato gnocchi.
- 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour.
- 2 eggs.
- 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs.
- 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.
- 1/2 teaspoon of Italian seasoning.
- Salt to taste.
- Black pepper to taste.
- Canola oil.
- Sauce of your choice for dipping (marinara, ketchup)
- In a pot, pour enough water with salt. Heat until boiling, and add the package of gnocchi.
- Cook them for 2 minutes or until they float. Set aside.
- In a bowl, add all-purpose flour.
- In another container, place beaten eggs and one tablespoon of water.
- In another bowl, combine breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, salt, and black pepper.
- Dip each of them in all-purpose flour, beaten eggs, and then coat with breadcrumbs mixture.
- In a skillet, heat canola oil at medium temperature.
- Fry coated gnocchi in batches.
- Cook for 3 minutes until they are crispy and brown.
- Place gnocchi in a paper towel to drain extra oil.
- Serve with your preferred sauce.