Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know whether gnocchi is pasta or not. These small, dumpling-like balls of heaven have stumped many of us even when it’s been our go-to comfort food on bad days. So, we asked an Italian chef to help us come to a conclusion.
What is gnocchi, and should you call it pasta?
When Laura Sharrad on Season 12 of MasterChef walked away from the judges after they tasted her dish saying, “It’s not pasta, it’s gnocchi”, some of us may have been thrown off.
You see, pasta is typically made from wheat flour, eggs and water. On the other hand, the most common type of gnocchi – Italian for ‘lumps’ – is primarily made from potatoes and combined with just enough flour to hold the dough together. A small amount of egg yolk is added on to give the mixture a bit of density — it also acts as a binding agent.
The introduction of potatoes as a primary ingredient in some types of gnocchi has created a debate as old as time: is gnocchi a pasta or a type of dumpling?
Deborah Dal Fovo, a private chef, cooking instructor, and Italian lifestyle expert who lived in both Milan and Tuscany for 20 years, explains to Lifehacker Australia that there’s no doubt in her head that gnocchi is NOT pasta because of the way the ingredients are used. Instead, she would categorise gnocchi as a dumpling, especially the ‘light and fluffy ones made with potato or ricotta’.
However, she said some Italians would argue otherwise for only one simple reason: the pasta dough used to make some of the versions of gnocchi.
“I can tell you there are many types of gnocchi, some of which are made with a pasta dough called impasto in Italian,” Dal Fovo said to Lifehacker Australia. “This is why gnocchi is often categorised as a pasta.
“So for instance, people in southern Italy would consider gnocchi made with impasto to be a pasta dish. Those in northern Italy would simply call it dumpling.”
She explains that it differs across regions depending on which version(s) of the gnocchi is more popular there.
Dal Fovo also believes the shape of the gnocchi might itself be why some people confuse it with pasta.
“Gnocchetti [a type of pasta] most likely gets mixed up with gnocchi because they both look and sound alike but there’s no similarity in terms of the actual dough or consistency,” she said.
In other words, just because it looks like pasta and is dressed like pasta… doesn’t mean it’s pasta.
An article on MasterClass gives us a breakdown of the huge variety of types of gnocchi dishes out there and no doubt explains some of the confusion:
- Original gnocchi: The first versions of gnocchi appeared on the scene sometime during the 14th century. These were made from breadcrumbs and/or flour.
- Gnocchi alla zucca: Pumpkin gnocchi served with butter and cheese.
- Ndunderi: A specialty from the Amalfi Coast and traditionally made with farro (grain) and curdled milk.
- Gnocchi alla Romana: These are made with semolina and milk and shaped into squares. You have to bake these.
- Ricotta gnocchi: In this dish, you substitute potatoes for ricotta.
- Malfatti: Extra-large gnudi made with a mixture of ricotta, flour and blanched spinach.
- Gnocchi à la Parisienne: French gnocchi made from pâte à choux—flour, butter, and egg. No potatoes are used. You’ll need to pipe and cut the paste into simmering water.
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Easy gnocchi recipe to make at home
If this is going to be your first time making gnocchi, you might as well start with the most common potato gnocchi dish because who doesn’t love potatoes.
There’s a popular one by Tasty that has won many hearts (and stomachs).
- 4 medium russet potatoes
- 1 tspn salt, plus more for the water
- 1 tspn pepper
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (190g), extra to dust
- 2 tbsp butter, for pan frying
- sage leaf
- Add the potatoes to a large pot of cool salted water. Bring the water to a boil and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until a fork can easily pierce a potato. Drain the potatoes and set aside until cool enough to handle but still warm.
- Using a peeler or your fingers, remove the skin from the potatoes. In a medium bowl, mash the potatoes until all lumps are gone. Add the salt and pepper and mix well. Make a well in the center of the potatoes and crack an egg into it. Whisk the eggs briefly. Then, using your hands, gently mix it into the potatoes until evenly distributed.
- Put 1 cups of flour onto a clean surface and turn out the potato dough onto it, keeping the remaining ½ cup close by in case you need it. Working quickly and carefully, knead the dough, only incorporating as much flour as you need along the way until the dough loses stickiness and becomes more solid. Slice the dough into 4 parts. Roll out 1 part into a long rope, about 1 inch wide, cutting in half and working with 1 half at a time if the rope is becoming too long. Slice the rope into ½-inch squares and set aside on a lightly floured surface. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- If desired, place a fork on your work surface and slide each gnocchi square from the base of the fork prongs to the top so they make a decorative shape.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the gnocchi in batches, stirring gently once or twice to ensure they are not sticking. Boil until they float to the surface; after another 15-30 seconds in the water, remove.
- In a pan over medium heat, melt butter and add the sage. Add the gnocchi and toss until lightly golden.
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