Traditionally served as a starter instead of pasta or soup, Gnocchi originates from Italy and is playing a bigger part in our cooking than ever before. The residents of Rome claim gnocchi as their own, even though you can find gnocchi dishes almost anywhere in Italy.
Gnocchi meaning “little knots” are little soft dough dumplings that are usually made from potato but can also be made from other ingredients such as wheatflour, eggs, cheese and semolina which alter the texture and consistency quite considerably. These delightful little puffs, are generally served with a sauce such as a rich tomato sauce with herbs, or with a cheese or pesto sauce for example. They can also be used as accompaniment to a beef, pork or fish ragu.
The most basic gnocchi ‘dough’, and probably the simplest if trying to prepare quickly for your family or friends, is the original recipe chosen by Italians hundreds of years ago, using a combination of potato, flour and eggs (one egg for every 300g potatoes). The eggs make the dough more robust and prevent the gnocchi from ending up as a soggy mess in the bottom of the pan! When using the flour, work on a ratio of half the amount of flour to potatoes, i.e. 150g flour, 300g potato. Be sure to use floury potatoes such as Desiree and boil with the skins on to reduce the amount of moisture absorbed.
When boiling the potatoes, make sure they are completely tender and drain thoroughly to dry them off. You can also bake the potatoes and scoop out the fluffy insides, but this takes a bit longer. Once the potatoes are cooked, put them through a potato ricer if you have one, or push through a fine sieve.
To make the dumplings, combine the flour with the potatoes. Once complete, make a well in the centre of the mixture and add the egg. Use your hands to stir the mixture together rather than a spoon. The end result should be a lovely, easy to handle dough.
One of the trade marks of these little parcels is that they resemble seashells – gnocchi makers press one side of the dough with a fork, to make ridges, before cooking by dropping into gently simmering water. When they float to the surface, the gnocchi is ready. Strain and serve immediately.
You can buy ready made gnocchi in supermarkets and delicatessens, which can be fresh or frozen or dried, usually found in or around the pasta section of the shop. The fresh vacuum-packed variety is definitely superior to frozen or dried, as the texture has retained sufficient moisture. Be careful if buying frozen – cook them from frozen, otherwise you will end up with a thick potato water in your pan!
Dried versions really should be the last resort – their taste and texture does not really resemble gnocchi in its best form, as they tend to be more like pasta and invariably chewy.
If you are lucky enough to be in Rome on a Thursday evening, you will sample the best gnocchi in the majority of restaurants. Thursday is ‘Giovedi Gnocchi (Gnocchi Thursday) and you will be spoilt for choice. Or why not have Gnocchi Thursday at home? Try this great fish ragu with gnocchi recipe, it’s super easy to make and tastes delicious!
For lasagne lovers, another classic Italian dish is ‘gnocchi al forno’, a beautiful baked gnocchi dish with all the attributes of lasagne, but the pasta sheets are replaced with the little handmade fluffy pillows of gnocchi. With a rich tomato sauce and covered with cheese and sometimes breadcrumbs – not just one cheese but several different varieties so treat your friends and family to this one!
If you prefer to be a little more indulgent, try a truffle gnocchi, where the dish is complemented with shavings of black truffle and parmesan or try making the gnocchi with pumpkin instead, it tastes great!