Gnocchi: Origins and Evolution

From Roman Dough to World Cuisine

The gnocchi (pronounced nyok-ee) go way back to Roman times. They were made from semolina dough, mixed with eggs. Roman legions spread the dish throughout the the European region where they have conquered and it became a peasant delicacy as the gnocchi was inexpensive, easy to prepare, and filling.

Gnocchi developed into different variations since then. At first they existed with different ingredients such as squash and breadcrumbs, made of ordinary wheat flour or cornmeal. Then they came with cheese and potatoes. But it didn’t become the potato dumplings we know today until the 16th century when potatoes were introduced to Europe. The potato gnocchi actually originated in Northern Italy, where the cooler climate was better suited for growing potatoes rather than grain. There are potatoes that are more starchy, that make light, airy dough and are responsible for the soft, pillowy texture and more potatoey flavor of the gnocchi.

The most common way to prepare gnocchi today is to combine mashed potatoes with flour, forming balls of dough. The gnocchi dough is usually rolled out, then cut into small bite-sized pieces, each individually pressed with a fork or a cheese grater to produce the ridges on one side. The purpose of these grooves is to enable each dumpling to hold the sauce and taste more flavorful. But before that, the dumplings are quickly boiled in salted water in only a few minutes.

The most popular sauce is light butter sauce with fresh sage. Though there are other methods and other sauces that make for delicious gnocchi, like extra virgin olive oil with small savory ingredients as toasted pine nuts, mushrooms or a touch of cream. There’s also gnocchi with sausage ragú, a traditional Sardinian dish. There’s baked gnocchi of cheeses and veggies with sausage, prosciutto or pancetta. There are tomato-based sauces, light cream sauce and pesto.

Gnocchi is generally a first course dish, or an alternative to soups or other pasta. There are many variations – ricotta, spinach, pumpkin, and more. They are home-made in Italian households and found also in immigrant Italian families. There’s ready-to-eat gnocchi, produced in packages, and bought fresh or frozen in groceries and supermarkets. From humble beginnings, the gnocchi is now a world cuisine.

Going for Gnocchi in Bothell

Try Amaro Bistro’s housemade potato dumplings with sweet tomato sauce, Romano cream, basil and parmesan cheese. Our gnocchi variant is heavenly and truly authentic northern Italian cuisine.