A few month ago, I happened to read an issue of a food magazine. To date this magazine is quite popular.
What I remember is a statement of colossal ignorance: “In Italy gnocchi is often used as a side dish”.

Gnocchi in Italy is a first course as much as risotto, pasta, or polenta. It is impractical and unthinkable to offer gnocchi as a side dish.

After the discovery of America, the New World, many new types of food revolutionized the cuisine of the Old World. The potato was one of these new foods. It took more than ten years to understand how these tubers could be used. At first glance they are hard, inedible, difficult to cut and without any flavor. They certainly did not offer culinary inspiration for easy cooking methods.

The kitchens of all European courts and the chefs of the most important aristocratic families were constantly busy trying to find a solution of how to cook potatoes and how to out do the competition. Lower social classes did not have access to this new food.

The origins of gnocchi are neither clear nor historically proven. Among various theories, it is said that gnocchi was created in the 1500s by the head chef of the kitchens of the Doge in Venice. Chronicles describe this chef as an alchemist who was extraordinarily ingenious and extravagant in his culinary inventions. It was he who, after hundreds of attempts, found the solution.

He boiled, crushed and mixed the potatoes with flour and egg until the mixture turned into dough. But this was still inedible. From this dough he made small round balls, but he still felt unhappy about their flavor. Feeling hopelessly disappointed he threw them in a pan of boiling water. After a little time, the balls floated to the surface of the water and this time they were edible, albeit without much flavor. The chef kept on experimenting until a couple of the balls fell into a pot of sauce. He tried them and realized that, although they did have much flavor to start off with, they had the ability to perfectly absorb other flavors and become very tasty.

The chef decided to call these balls gnocchi (in Italy a ‘gnocco’ is a person who finds it difficult to understand things. Perhaps this name was inspired because potatoes were difficult to work).

During the following centuries potatoes were grown both in Italy and the rest of Europe and became available to everyone. Gnocchi became a very popular dish everywhere in Italy, mainly because it was cheap to prepare. In the 1900s gnocchi became so common that families cooked it at least once a week, in particular on Thursday.

From the possible invention to the present day, no one has ever thought of eating gnocchi as a side dish.

Drawn from Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti Bolognaise & Caesar Salad by Maurizio Pelli.

For info: The Culinary Clinic by Maurizio Pelli.