Connoisseurs of fine Italian food know that gnocchi is a small dumpling. In fact, the word in Italian means "lump". This dumpling is most often made with potatoes, though it can also be made from flour, squash, cheese or even polenta. Gnocchi is served much in the same manner as pasta, with sauce or some butter and sage or parmesan cheese.
Gnocchi recipes date back to the 12th century and are most common in the Northern regions of Italy. Believe it or not, these dumplings are very popular in Brazil, where people enjoy Italian food in general. While it's not as popular as pasta is in the United States, Americans enjoy gnocchi as well. In fact, most fine Italian restaurants have at least one dish on the menu.
Purists make their potato dumplings by hand. First they wash and boil the potatoes. After they are cooked and cooled, the potatoes are peeled and pushed through a potato ricer. It's important not to puree the potatoes, as they will become gummy and difficult to work with. Once the potatoes are processed, flour and salt are added to make a dough.
The dough is rolled out into long cylindrical pieces which are cut into bite sized morsels. The morsels are rolled from a fork, giving them the ridged pattern gnocchi are famous for. A special "gnocchi board" may also be used for this. The dumplings should be added to boiling water immediately after cutting. For best results, they should be cooked fresh since they do not store well.
To cook the gnocchi, drop the dumplings gently into rapidly boiling water. When the dumplings float to the top of the water, they are ready. This process should only take a few minutes; any longer than two or three minutes and the dumplings will start to break up in the water.
Gnocchi can be served many different ways. One way is to sauté some garlic in a little butter and pour it over the gnocchi. Tomato, pesto and alfredo sauces also work well with this dish. Gnocchi is also tasty with vegetables such as eggplant, asparagus or artichokes.
If gnocchi is too ambitious to make on your own, fear not. Pre-made varieties are also available at your local supermarket. Purchase with sauce already included, or find a recipe of your own. Either way, you're sure to enjoy a delicious treat.