The name translates literally to "a stupid person" but the reason for the reference is unclear. Gnocchi, an Italian specialty, is served with a variety of sauces including a simple butter and Parmesan, pesto, gorgonzola cream or a light marinara. Gnocchi is frequently served as a side dish to meats or poultry but may also serve as an appetizer or main course as well. There is alsoa dried version of gnocchi which is actually a type of pasta.

Gnocchi History

Recipes for gnocchi have been documented back to the 1300's. Gnocchi is more common in Northern Italy but can be found in other regions of Italy as well as other countries. Gnocchi originated about the same time as the ravioli.  Germany, Austria and Hungary all adapted versions to their local cuisine.

Chef Norm Van Aken writes about gnocchi in South America:

 "In Uruguay and Argentina, where the cuisine is strongly influenced by Italy, there is a curious tradition of unknown origin. They say that if you eat gnocchi on the 29th of each month, you’ll have plenty of cash for the next thirty days. Some people even place their wallets on their laps or put a couple of bills under their plate to encourage the unknown forces at work. Restaurant chefs and housewives invent all kinds of recipes that are intended to aid the spell."

Gnocchi And Sauces

Sauces can be a simple as a topping of Parmesan cheese while other popular choices are include Gorgonzola cream sauce, fresh tomato sauce, olive oil and garlic.

  • In Piedmont, the gnocchi are baked with cheese. The Genoese (also refer to gnocchi as troffie) serve the dumplings with a pesto sauce.  A favorite of mine is spinach gnocchi baked with Fontina chees.
  • Another favorite in Italy is gnocchi made with dried porcini mushrooms incorporated into the dough.  This version is served only with butter -- Italians don't typically put cheese on anything flavored with wild mushrooms. (Bugialli On Pasta).
  • In Tuscany a thick tomato sauce is used to make the gnocci then served with butter and cheese.

Gnocchi Making Tools

gnocchi board for making gnocchi

Gnocchi Board

A gnocchi board (gnocchi paddle) is used form the grooves on the gnocchi dumplings. The grooves help sauce to adhere to the surface.

To use the board you simple take your little dumpling, press down with your thumb and roll the dough away from you.  Watch the video below for the proper technique.  It's one of those things that once you get the hang of it you could do it in your sleep.  Well, maybe we don't recommend that.

Fun Fact about Gnocchi

Other Regional Variations

According to Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion To Food, the Romans make a gnocchi from potato flour and egg cut into flat rounds using a glass.  In Sciccily little malloreddus are made from plain flour and water then pressed out with the thumb against a textured surface.  Variations in the dumpling and sauces abound throughout Italy.


Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.