Gnocchi: the recipe of Italian granny

Gnocchi are one of the most popular dishes in the world, prepared in all the regions of Italy with the usual small differences. They are a very simple dish and they could be combined with any type of seasoning. In Rome they are one of the most served dishes along with Amatriciana and Carbonara.

Due to their variety, we could consider them a category of pasta in its own right. There are in fact several types of gnocchi, although the most famous are made of potatoes: with wheat flour, with rice flour, with dry bread, with semolina, with pumpkin.

Clearly the potato gnocchi date back to the 16th century when they were imported from America, but even before there was a variation of gnocco.

Let’s see the story together and then discover the recipe!

Gnocchi: a bit of history

The word gnocchi probably derives from the Lombard word knohhil which means the knot of the wood. The immediate derivation to this term is the South Tyrolean knodels and the Trentino canederli. They are a dish of poor tradition, also characterized by the “recycling” of materials such as bread dumplings that use dry bread. The gnocchi have the shape of small cylinders with an irregular surface caused by impression on a grater or on a fork.

At the Sforza court the gnocchi were served during the wedding banquets and they were known as “zanzarelli”. The preparation of these was quite different from those today: in fact the spinach was added which changed the color and taste of the dough. More or less at the same time, the second half of the sixteenth century, the first recipes of this pasta are published by two of the greatest cooks of the Renaissance, Cristoforo Messisbugo and Bartolomeo Scappi. In this case they were called maccaroni  gnocchi whose dough was passed on the back of the grater. They were served dry, with the typical seasoning of butter, cheese and spices (sometimes a little sugar).

In the seventeenth century they were called malfatti and the use of bread was no longer foreseen.

The first recipes of potato gnocchi were proposed at the end of the eighteenth century. Clearly they did not only include the use of potatoes, but other ingredients such as cream, egg yolks, parsley, garlic, veal fat or ricotta. Pellegrino Artusi in his famous book La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene (Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well) in 1891 described two recipes: in one the potatoes were mixed with chopped chicken breast, mainly in the other one, that was simpler, they were just potatoes and flour.

This last version, a bit minimalist, already appeared in 1871 with the name of gnocchi alla marchigiana. The first recipe book of traditional cuisine in 1908 includes them among the Bolognese specialties, while in 1927 in the book Talismano della felicità (Talisman of happiness) they are described as a typical dish of Roman trattorias, served on Thursdays.

In Rome, in fact, the gnocchi represent the traditional Thursday dish according to the saying: “Thursday gnocchi, Friday fish (or even” chickpeas and cod “), Sabato tripe” (Giovedì gnocchi, venerdì pesce, sabato trippa). Thursday being a day in between was almost considered a holiday that needed an elaborate and tasty dish. Even today, in Rome, many taverns follow the tradition of this saying. Still, always Roman is the saying “Ridi, ridi che mamma ha fatto i gnocchi” (laugh, laugh what mom made gnocchi), which emphasizes the joy to be able to eat this very tasty dish.

In the South, gnocchi were prepared on Sundays instead.

From 1880 onwards a lot of variations of gnocchi disappeared, except for those of potatoes.

Gnocchi: the recipe


1 kg potatoes

300 g 00 flour

1 egg

Fine salt


Preparing time 60 min

Cooking time 5 min

Serves 6



To prepare the potato gnocchi, start by boiling these: place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with plenty of cold water. From the moment the water boils, count about 30-40 minutes, depending on their size; do the fork test and if the prongs get into the middle without difficulty then you can drain them.

Peel them while they are still hot and immediately crush them on the flour you have poured onto the pastry board. Then add the lightly beaten egg together with a pinch of salt and knead everything with your hands until you get a soft but firm dough. Remember that working them too much, the dumplings will become hard during cooking, so limit yourself to kneading the necessary.

Take a part of the dough and roll it out with the fingertips to make bigoli, that is the loaves, 2 centimeters thick: to do this, help yourself by flouring the pastry board, from time to time, with semolina. Meanwhile, cover the remaining dough with a cloth to prevent it from drying out.

Then cut the loins into small pieces and with a light pressure with your thumb, drag them on the gnocchi line to obtain the classic shape. If you don’t have this tool, you can use a fork and drag them on the prongs: also in this case, use the semolina flour to prevent them from sticking.

As you prepare the potato gnocchi place them on a tray with a lightly floured cloth, well spaced from one another. If you intend to cook them you can pour them in boiling salted water. As soon as the gnocchi come to the surface they are considered cooked and then ready to be drained and seasoned. One of the most used condiments for this pasta is a tomato-based sauce sprinkled with Parmesan on the top.

Enjoy your gnocchi!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.