Gnocchi is the plural of gnocco, an Italian variety of dumpling that has been around since Roman times. Although recipes vary from region to region, the three most basic ingredients are cooked mashed potato, flour (farina), and eggs (uova). Other common additions include semolina, cheese (formaggio), ricotta, spinach and polenta.
Origin of the word:
The Italian word gnocco comes from the Venetian gnoco (meaning protuberance or bulge), which in turn may come from the Lombard knohhil (meaning knot in wood).
Gnocco has other meanings in Italian besides dumpling. By extension, it can mean knot or lump (the latter in the Veneto region mainly), and figuratively, it is one way of saying idiot or goofball in Italian. In Italian slang, gnocco and the feminine gnocca mean hot guy / hot girl respectively.
Gnocchi pronunciation: Learn with our video
How do you pronounce ‘gnocchi’ in Italian?
Most English speakers pronounce gnocchi in one of two ways: “naw-kee” (UK) or “noh-kee” (US). Here is how you should pronounce it in Italian:
The authentic Italian pronunciation of gnocchi differs from the English in three main ways.
First is the pronunciation of gn, which isn’t an n sound but rather an ɲ (a palatal nasal in linguistic terminology). Because this sound doesn’t exist in English, it can be quite hard to master at first.
Second is the o sound, which is an open-mid back rounded vowel ɔ in Italian.
Finally, we have the double cc which, like all double consonants in Italian, is pronounced with a longer sound than a single consonant. Simply hold the position of your mouth when the consonant is formed (in the case of c this would be with your tongue up against the back of your mouth) for a brief second, then release.
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Mi piacciono gli gnocchi al pomodoro.
I like gnocchi with tomato sauce.
There are various gnocchi recipes in Italy. Here are some of the most famous:
- Gnocchi della Val Varaita: a Piedmont speciality with cheese, butter and sage
- Gnocchi alla sorrentina: a variation of the traditional pasta alla sorrentina of the Campania region, but with gnocchi instead of pasta, includes tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil
- Gnocchi alla romana: made with semolina flour, the gnocchi are bigger and have a disc-like shape; prepared with butter, pecorino cheese and parmesan
Gnocchi vs gnocchetti
If you look for gnocchi recipes, you’ll stumble upon the diminutive gnocchetti which, at first, may sound like ‘small gnocchi’. However, gnocchetti, also known as malloreddus (a Sardinian dialectal word meaning ‘small bulls’) or gnocchetti sardi, aren’t dumplings at all but a variety of pasta with a small striped shell-like shape.
Gnocchetti are one of the most traditional dishes in the region of Sardinia, and the most famous is the Malloreddus alla campidanese, which is prepared with sausage ragù and grated pecorino cheese.
Quando vado in Sardegna, la prima cosa che faccio è mangiarmi un bel piatto di malloreddus, anche conosciuti come gnocchetti sardi.
When I go to Sardinia, the first thing I do is eat a good plate of malloreddus, also known as the little Sardinian gnocchi.
How to make ‘gnocchi’
In order to make the most basic of gnocchi dough, start by boiling peeled potatoes of the starchy variety in salted water. Once they are tender yet firm, mash them into a smooth paste, mix in the flour and egg, and kneed the mixture into a ball. Then, roll the dough out into a sausage shape on a floured surface before cutting it into small pieces and rolling it over a fork to create an indentation. After boiling them for a couple of minutes, feel free to dress them with the sauce (salsa) of your choice.
One funny expression with the word ‘gnocchi’
Ridi, ridi che la mamma ha preparato gli gnocchi!
Lit: Laugh, laugh because mum made gnocchi!
This expression is said to someone who is laughing for no reason and looks like a fool. The use of the word gnocchi is to reinforce the absurdity of the situation.
Originally, the phrase may have been related to poverty: gnocchi was not a common dish among the poor, so when they were made, they would bring a smile to all the family.