Gnocchi is a traditional Italian dish classified as pasta in many regions. However, gnocchi is actually small potato dumplings, typically served in sauce—in a simple sauce as a side dish, or with meats, vegetables, and cheese as a main dish.
While it may be cheaper to prepare gnocchi at home than to buy already prepared gnocchi at the store, the process can be tricky.
Making your own gives you fresh, filling dumplings, especially if you use starchy potatoes.
Waxy potatoes won’t stick together as well as Idaho or baking potatoes will.
Whether you make your own gnocchi or use a store-bought package, you can change the flavor according to what gnocchi sauce or spice you serve with the dumplings.
The word “gnocchi” derives from the Italian word “nocca”, which translates to “knuckle”, or the word “nocchio”, which translates to “a knot in the wood.” (Etymology Online)
Gnocchi originates in the northern region of Italy.
Its climate was cooler than other areas and better suited for growing potatoes rather than grains for pasta.
Different regions of Italy prepare gnocchi with different ingredients, though potato is the foundation for all.
Gnocchi is a simple dish; originally known as the perfect peasant food dish because it was filling and not costly.
In traditional Roman cuisine, having gnocchi was a dish served on Thursdays.
Many traditional Italian restaurants still reserve Thursdays for this filling dish.
This recipe was common in the 18th century.
Before potatoes, stale bread or bread crumbs were often used, referred to as bread gnocchi, gnocchi di pane.
Squash was also a core gnocchi ingredient before the introduction of potatoes.
Due to the amount of moisture in squash, the dough is softer than that of potato gnocchi, but the final results are just as delicious.
What is gnocchi?
Gnocchi is an Italian dumpling.
The most common gnocchi, potato gnocchi, is a simple dish with only three ingredients.
It has a chewy texture and bland base—the way you serve it impacts its flavors.
There are three traditional “takes” on gnocchi: Gnocchi di Patate, alla Romana, and Parisienne.
When making homemade gnocchi, you can add ricotta to the dough to impact its flavor.
Some recipes call for a sprinkling of salt and pepper to add taste before cooking.
Adding nutmeg to the dough will give it a warm, nutty taste, which pairs well with brown butter and light sauces.
Overall, gnocchi is a versatile dumpling that can make any meal filling and delicious.
What is gnocchi made of?
The most common type of gnocchi is potato gnocchi, gnocchi di patate.
You can prepare homemade potato gnocchi with eggs, flour, and potatoes.
It’s very simple to make at home using this traditional gnocchi recipe.
The trick for all gnocchi is to not knead the dough too long, but long enough to give this dense dumpling a bit of a toothsome bite so it won’t fall apart in the water.
But not SO long that the dumplings are chewy and heavy like taffy.
Use a starchy potato, like an Idaho or baking potato.
These stick together better than the somewhat “waxy” consistency of Yukon Gold potatoes.
You can also make gnocchi out of ricotta cheese and all-purpose flour, like in this recipe.
How to make gnocchi
You don’t want the potatoes to be too moist, or the dumplings will fall apart.
The gnocchi dumplings should be slightly firm and dense so you can pair them with various sauces and sides.
Boil or bake your potatoes as you would if serving them on their own.
Cut them open and let the steam escape for a few minutes. Then mash them up and give the steam more time to rise.
You want to eliminate as much moisture as possible from the potatoes.
Moist potato mash makes soggy gnocchi.
An easy way to prepare the potatoes for formation is by placing them in a potato ricer after boiling them.
Instead of mashing them yourself, this simple device gets the potato into the right consistency.
Make sure you spread out the mash afterward, as you would if you worked them with the fork.
The steam still needs to escape.
Add the egg to the dough and stir it around until all the potato is evenly coated.
The potatoes should still be warm when you form the dough so that the egg can bind to the dough.
At this point, you’ll assess the moisture to decide how much flour to add. If you boiled your potatoes, you shouldn’t have much moisture left.
Baking or microwaving potatoes leaves a lot of moisture inside, so you’ll need more flour.
Slowly add flour to the potato mash and work it into a dough. It should feel dry but stay together without crumbling.
Roll the dough together into a ball, and cut it into quarters.
Roll out each quarter of dough into a long snake, being careful to use your hands instead of your fingertips so it’ll stay together.
Choosing the right ingredients and using the correct ratio is key.
If you use too much egg, your gnocchi will be sticky and gummy upon consumption.
If you use too little flour, the dough can fall apart. If you use too much flour, the gnocchi will be too heavy.
Stretch the snake out on your workspace and cut it into pieces about 3/4-inch thick.
At this time, you can gently press your fork tines into the dough to give it the signature ridges, as you’d find on true Italian gnocchi.
We like the wit and wisdom over at Binging With Babish, and this video gives great instructions if you want to make your own gnocchi.
He demonstrates how to use fork tines to create the traditional grooves on homemade gnocchi, so it’s definitely worth watching.
What does gnocchi taste like?
There isn’t much gnocchi flavor if you serve it on its own.
Like pasta noodles, gnocchi is a plain side dish that you can level up according to your tastes. Traditional Italians top their gnocchi with butter sauce and fresh sage.
Potato gnocchi can be bland if it is not seasoned and served with sauce or an entree.
If you prepare it as such, it can taste buttery.
Most recipes call for boiled gnocchi, which gives you a plain base to level up with spices and sauce.
You can pan fry gnocchi to give it a crisp outer edge, which adds a unique texture to your dishes.
Gnocchi pasta is a delicious, versatile dish that you can top with a variety of sauces or cheese.
How to serve gnocchi
There are several different ways to prepare and serve gnocchi.
You can prepare gnocchi by boiling it, frying it, or baking it. You should never serve gnocchi uncooked or cold.
You’ll know boiled gnocchi is ready when it comes to the surface of the water.
You should scoop them right out and let them drain. Otherwise, they’ll overcook.
This leads to tough gnocchi that won’t absorb any of the flavors of the seasonings or sauces you add.
Frying gnocchi in a pan gives it a crisp coating that adds great texture to many dishes.
You can still add sauce to fried gnocchi, but some recipes keep it as a simple side with a sprinkling of parsley for flavor.
If you plan to bake gnocchi, you still need to boil it first so the inside softens.
You can bake into recipes like casseroles, baked macaroni and cheese, and lasagna.
Simply replace the noodles in each recipe with gnocchi and enjoy a filling meal.
We put together a list of gnocchi sauces here that really make an impact.
Is gnocchi pasta or potato?
Gnocchi is technically not a form of pasta; gnocchi is a dumpling dish traditionally made from potatoes.
Traditional potato gnocchi consists of potatoes, flour, and eggs.
Typical pasta consists of wheat flour and water, using much more flour than gnocchi requires.
The ingredients used to make pasta allow you to form it into many different flexible shapes, like long strands of noodles, corkscrews, bowties, and more.
Gnocchi dough is always formed into a dumpling because it’s very loose, not kneaded for very long, and usually not extruded like pasta would be.
Regular pasta is typically heavier in carbs than gnocchi, but gnocchi has a higher sodium content.
Pasta usually contains more protein and nutrients than potato gnocchi, but there are more alternative ingredients for gnocchi than pasta.
You can serve gnocchi like you’d serve pasta, however. Gnocchi tastes great when topped with tomato or meat sauce and cheese like a bowl of spaghetti.
You can toss gnocchi with melted butter and top with sage as a side dish. It’s a great alternative to pasta in countless recipes.
Something to remember is that gnocchi made with potatoes will often turn dark or gray because the potato oxidizes in the open air.
Is gnocchi pasta or a dumpling?
Gnocchi is not pasta. Since it primarily consists of potatoes, it is a dumpling. A dumpling is a cooked ball of dough.
Gnocchi can serve as a lower-carb alternative to pasta, but its texture is still that of a dumpling.
Gnocchi is often confused with pasta because of how you can serve it.
You can top gnocchi with sauces and cheeses, just as you would with noodles.
But gnocchi has a chewier, thicker texture than pasta.
Is gnocchi gluten-free?
Depending on your dietary restrictions, there are different types of gnocchi to make.
A gluten-free alternative is cauliflower gnocchi.
Use steamed cauliflower florets, potato starch, cassava flour, olive oil, and salt to form the dough.
It’s a good source of fiber and a lower-carb alternative.
Is gnocchi keto-friendly?
Although potato gnocchi typically has a lower carbohydrate content than pasta, it is not carb-free or particularly keto-friendly.
However, there are keto-friendly gnocchi recipes available. This one is highly reviewed. This one is gluten-free also. This one is made out of cauliflower.
To make keto gnocchi, you can use almond flour, full-fat mozzarella cheese, butter, and eggs.
Some recipes involve cauliflower rice, cream cheese, coconut flour, and parmesan cheese.
You can serve your gnocchi with a simple butter sauce or opt for a homemade low-carb sauce.
Portion-control probably helps a lot overall even with keto-friendly foods.
If you use too much egg, the dough will have an unpleasant texture.
If you don’t use enough eggs, the dough will fall apart when you roll it out. It takes practice, but it’s worth it.
Is gnocchi vegetarian?
Gnocchi, when served on its own or with a vegetarian sauce, is a vegetarian dish. So YES, BUT it depends on the recipe, so you should always check.
Gnocchi itself does not contain any meat.
However, many recipes call for meat in the sauce or toppings. You can always opt for meat alternatives or forgo them entirely.
One great vegetarian gnocchi recipe uses frozen turnips to make a creamy soup.
The slight bitterness of the turnips pairs well with the buttery gnocchi.
Saute onion in a pan with vegetable oil, then add the frozen turnips.
You can add pepper or curry powder according to your tastes. Use an immersion blender to mix the vegetables together.
At this point, you can pour the soup broth over gnocchi for a filling meal, or blend the gnocchi in as well.
If you blend the gnocchi for a thicker soup, add a little cream as well.
Warm the soup back up on the stovetop and top with garnish and croutons for a delightful entree.
Is gnocchi vegan?
No, traditional potato gnocchi is not vegan, because you use egg to bind together the potato and flour.
You can make vegan gnocchi at home by substituting olive oil or egg-substitute for the eggs.
The texture is a bit different, but you can use the dumpling as a base for many vegan sauces and have a great meal.
You can make sweet potato gnocchi with sweet potatoes, flour, and salt.
Sweet potatoes are full of nutrients and are an ideal choice for people who can’t digest nightshades.
If you like traditional potato gnocchi but want to add more flavor, you can add ingredients to the dough.
Spinach and pumpkin are two popular choices that add flavor without overwhelming the sauces you might add later.
Some Italians dice porcini mushrooms into their gnocchi dough.
This adds a rich flavor to the dumplings, but it changes the sauce options for preparation.
Due to the mushroom flavor, cheese doesn’t work well with this dish.
Italians typically toss the dumplings with butter to enhance the natural flavor.
Goat cheese gnocchi looks delicious whether you boil or fry the dumplings.
Use goat cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano in place of potatoes, and replace the half cup of flour with almond flour, then prepare as normal.
The bottom line
Homemade potato gnocchi is a simple recipe that consists of only three ingredients: potato, egg, and flour.
Store-bought gnocchi has more preservatives and a longer list of ingredients but has a longer shelf life.
You can store vacuum-packed gnocchi in a dry cupboard for up to about three months.
You can refrigerate prepared gnocchi for up to two days.
Because gnocchi has such a plain flavor, it’s a great base for many dishes.
You can use it as a pasta replacement in macaroni and cheese or casseroles.
You can toss it with delicious sauces and enhance the potato flavor.
Or you can serve it on its own, lightly coated in butter and garnished with fresh sage or parsley.