What are gnocchi?
Gnocchi are considered a variety of pasta. These small bites are generally made up of cooked and mashed potatoes, to which soft wheat or durum wheat flour and sometimes semolina are added.
An egg may or may not be added to hold it together, as well as spices, pepper and even grated cheese. Once shaped, they are cooked in a pot of boiling water just like pasta. They can be eaten as is or can be served with a sauce or in a stew.
What is the origin of gnocchi?
The exact origin of gnocchi is unknown, which does not prevent it from being strongly discussed. Since the 15th century, gnocchi have appeared in carnival poems written for Lorenzo de’ Medici also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Later, they appeared alongside Pulcinella in his adventure with the King of Gnocchi. In the Milanese dialect, the expression broeud di gnocch means “gnocchi broth” but refers to something very dense and thick.
The famous Italian pastas also appear in the Divine Comedy. Later, the famous gastronome Pellegrino Artusi from Emilia-Romagna mentioned them in his book La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, which still serves as a reference in Italian gastronomy.
The origin of gnocchi could also come from a Renaissance recipe, zanzarelli, made from bread soaked in milk and chopped almonds. They were already colored with chard or artichoke purées to make them green. Saffron or pumpkin to make them yellow. Or even chicken meat and oranges or carrots to make them orange.
According to Le Robert dictionary, the word gnocchi already appeared before 1864 in the form of niocki. This 15th century Italian term once seemed to define a round bun flavored with anise. This would appear to come from the Venetian dialect gnocco. In Venetian, gnocco comes from the Langobardic nocca. Finally, the name could come from a Latin term gnocco nucleus.
Another theory claims that the word gnocchi originates from Nice and comes from ingocs. They are still prepared today in the Nice region where they bear the name merda de can (“dog shit” in Occitan). They are longer and also contain chopped chard. They can be eaten as is or with a beef stew.
In the book Nana by Émile Zola (originally from Italy), nioky are mentioned. They accompany a rabbit stew with parmesan and truffles.
How to prepare gnocchi
The preparation of gnocchi begins with cooking the potatoes. It is best to choose a starchy variety. Cooking can be done in water or in the oven. It is important for the potato to be very tender and above all, it is essential to keep the skin to strengthen its taste.
The potatoes can then be peeled while still hot and crushed, either with a fork or with a potato masher. Sifting the resulting purée allows for the gnocchi to have a more pleasant texture. The flesh, still hot, is placed on a bed of flour.
Egg and salt are added, and everything is mixed until obtaining a smooth, compact dough. The dough should not be worked too much in order to avoid activating the gluten contained in the flour, which would make the gnocchi sticky.
The ball is then divided into pieces of dough which are shaped into rolls, then cut into bite-size pieces. These can then be imprinted with a fork which will allow the sauce to adhere better. There is a small wooden tool that makes this step easier. This step also gives a more pleasant visual aspect to the gnocchi.
Gnocchi must be cooked immediately in a pot of boiling salted water to prevent them from drying out. Once cooked, they can be eaten immediately by combining them with a sauce or cooled in a pan of ice water and placed on a plate with a little olive oil. They can then be reheated in a sauce later.
How are gnocchi eaten?
Gnocchi are usually eaten simply coated with melted butter. They can also be coated with “beurre noisette”. The butter is generally flavored with sage leaves which are very popular in the north of the country. Gnocchi are also served in a broth or poultry soup (in brodo). There is also a sweet version made with milk (gnocchi di latte).
In Sorrento, gnocchi are served in a ragù made from many simmered meats and tomatoes to which mozzarella is added.
Gnocchi can also be served in a pesto sauce like in Liguria. With a duck stew like in the Venice region, or in tomato sauce.
In Verona, Veneto, they accompany the famous horse pastissada, one of the oldest recipes still prepared to date. They are often made on Friday during the carnival. One of the main masks of the carnival is called Papa del Gnocco. In Mantua, Lombardy, King Gnocco offers gnocchi, ravioli and wine on Carnival Friday.
What are the variants of gnocchi?
There are many variations of gnocchi. They differ in size since there are gnocchetti and gnocchini for the smallest forms up to gnocconi for the largest.
In Veneto and Nice alike, gnocchi can be enriched with a mince of herbs such as nettles (ortiche), arugula or wild herbs. In the mountainous part of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, fruit purées such as squash, plum or chestnut are also added.
In Rome, gnocchi alla romana are made with cornmeal and cooked in the oven. There is a famous saying in Rome that goes “gnocchi on Thursday, fish on Friday, tripe on Saturday”. Another saying is well known in Rome: “Laugh, laugh, the mother made gnocchi”.
In Piedmont in Castelmagno, gnocchi are made with cheese from the region. In the north of the country, gnocchi can also be stuffed with meat or cheese. In the north of Italy and in Switzerland, Austria or Germany, gnocchi are called knödels.
- 3 lb yellow potatoes
- 3½ cups flour
- 2 eggs , lightly whisked
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Place the flour on a large wooden board and set aside.
- Place the potatoes without peeling them in a large saucepan and cover them with a large quantity of cold water.
- As soon as the water boils again, cook them for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on their size. Test with a fork and if it penetrates the center without difficulty, the potatoes are cooked. Drain them.
- Peel them while still hot and immediately crush them on the flour.
- Add the eggs and salt and mix everything by hand until obtaining a smooth but compact dough.
- Do not overwork the dough, this will make the gnocchi hard during cooking.
- Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.
- Form 4 long rolls of 1¼ inch (3 cm) diameter on a floured work surface. Also flour the hands so that the dough does not stick to them.
- Cut them into ¾ inch (2 cm) long sections approximately.
- Roll them between the hands, then press them lightly with a fork.
- Sprinkle them with flour and place them on a floured cloth, well spaced.
- While making the gnocchi with the first roll of dough, cover the other rolls with a cloth so that the dough does not dry out.
- Boil a large amount of water in a saucepan.
- When the gnocchi rise to the surface, they are considered cooked and therefore ready to be drained and seasoned according to taste.