Gnocchi (NYOH-kee, NOH-kee), as we know them, are plump little lumps of pasta made mostly of potato. But that’s just the tip of the dumpling. Gnocchi’s permutations—past and present—are murkier than minestrone and as territorial as a Mafioso Don.
In early writings, gnocco (singular for gnocchi) is sometimes replaced by maccherone, a generic term for pasta, and a sort of Rosetta Stone for historians attempting to decipher pasta’s tangled past. The Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini De Vita tells us that gnocchi is primal pasta, the ancestor to all manner of noodles. As such, it sort of slips away from tidy definition.
In some parts of Italy, gnocchi was made of fine durum wheat. Elsewhere, it was chestnut, rye, rice or barley flour. When poverty struck, gnocchi might mean leftovers bound with breadcrumbs. We do know that potatoes came very late to the game and were slow to gain a following. An early recipe for potato gnocchi, circa 1834, calls for just one part potato to three parts flour. It takes another century for modern gnocchi to emerge—wherein potato is the main ingredient, with only enough flour to bind it into a workable dough.
Commercial gnocchi is readily available, but it’s worth the effort to make your own. Essentially, you mix cooked, riced potatoes with egg, then knead in some flour. There’s no special equipment required; the familiar grooved pattern is made with a table fork. Gnocchi’s delicate flavor pairs well with robust sauces, from tomato to pesto to pungent gorgonzola.
Fresh Peas with Lettuce and Gnocchi
The cooked lettuce adds a touch of sweetness to the starchy peas, and a little reduced heavy cream makes an appealing sauce.
1 (16-ounce) package frozen potato gnocchi, such as DeLallo
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 head Boston or other loose-leaf lettuce
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
4 cups fresh, shelled English peas or frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook gnocchi according to package directions; drain and keep warm.
2. Place butter in a large, heavy pan; heat over medium heat until melted. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Wash lettuce and trim away the stalk end. Shake water off lettuce (it’s OK if some water remains) and add to pan. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and peas. Cook until peas are tender, about 5 minutes.
4. Remove pea mixture from pan and keep warm. Add cream to pan and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Return pea mixture to pan, add gnocchi and cook, stirring occasionally, until peas are hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Serves 6.
Recipe by Robin Mather.
Per serving: 372 calories, 16g fat, 53mg chol., 11g prot., 46g carbs, 7g fiber, 538mg sodium
Look for Relish magazine, celebrating America’s love of food, each month in the Tooele Transcript Bulletin. For more Relish recipes and to sign up for our newsletters, log on to relish.com. To download our new free app and subscribe to Relish tablet editions and our free mobile app, Relish Daily Dish, go to relish.com/mobile
Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn