Dumplings are found all over the world, especially in the colder climates. They are usually made with potatoes, but they can also be made with a variety of other ingredients too. Gnocchi are the Italian version of these potato dumplings. It is believed that potato gnocchi were first created in Northern Italy sometime during the 16 & 17th centuries, after the Spanish explorers brought the potato back to Europe from their explorations in South America, although gnocchi of different variations were popular as menu items for banquets and feasts during the Renaissance period, which was much earlier.
Gnocchi, as we know them today, were created in Northern Italy, where the climate is cooler than it is in Southern Italy. The cooler climate is much better for growing and producing potatoes than it is for grain. Though they are mostly made from potatoes, they can also be made with other root vegetables, spinach and sweet potatoes too, as well as semolina and other ingredients.
The word gnocchi is believed to have been derived from two words. The first is nocca, which is the Italian word for knuckles, and the second is knohha, which is the Lombard word for knot. Both are plausible, since both words refer to the small, tight, rounded dumplings we know and love as gnocca, or the plural, gnocchi.
I love gnocchi, but I was always a little intimidated to make it. I was always waiting for someone to “show me how to make them”, though that never happened. But as with most things, I easily taught myself how to make them and the rest is now history. They are actually pretty easy to make and are not nearly as intimidating as I first thought.
My gnocchi dish was loosely, very loosely I might add, inspired by this gnocchi dish from my “Flavours of Urban Melbourne Cookbook” that I received as a Christmas gift from my nephew and his wife a few years ago. I completely changed it and made it my own, which is just what I do. I had a few of Priscilla’s Parmigiano savory cookies left too, A Simple Celebration which was a nice accompaniment to the gnocchi. I made my dish with chicken, added more vegetables and pesto sauce. It was very tasty indeed. And the Queen would be so proud of me for creatively using more leftovers too. These gnocchi are made from mashed potatoes, and I had some leftover mashed potatoes from the other night. Perfect.
Gnocchi with Chicken, Vegetables and Pesto
2 lbs chicken, cut into strips
1 yellow or crookneck squash, sliced thin
1 zucchini, sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced very thin
1 1/2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 cup tomatoes – I used the yellow sun tomatoes, cut in 1/2
salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2- cups cooked and cooled mashed potatoes
2 cups flour
Mix the mashed potatoes, flour and egg together and knead until it becomes a ball. Break off equal parts and form into smaller balls and roll on a smooth surface until they become long, snake-like tubes. Then cut into small pieces about 1 inch in size.
When the gnocchi are all made, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place in the refrigerator while preparing the rest of the dish.
If you are making your own pesto, Pesto Pasta Primavera with Chicken and Vegetables prepare it in the food processor and set aside.
Slice your vegetables and cut the chicken.
Saute the vegetables in the olive oil along with the salt & pepper. For those of your garlic lovers out there, fear not! There is plenty of garlic in here already. I always add garlic to my mashed potatoes, so the gnocchi already have garlic in them, AND I am very generous with my garlic when I make my pesto. believe me, this dish has plenty of garlic. No need for more. So, I purposely left it out of my vegetables, not to over power the dish with garlic.
When the vegetables are cooked, remove them from the skillet and set aside. Add the chicken and cook it until it is fully cooked. When the chicken is fully cooked, add the vegetables back to the skillet and combine well.
While the vegetables and chicken are cooking, start a large pot of water to boil. Once it starts to boil at a rapid boil, add the gnocchi. You may need to make a few batches. Let them boil for about 4-5 minutes, or until they float at the surface. When they float, they are done and are ready to eat.
When the gnocchi are done, plate everything up. I like to layer my foods. It makes for a much better presentation. So I started with my gnocchi, added a little pesto, then the chicken and vegetables mixture, with more pesto on top. Then I added just a few tomatoes at the very end. I also served this with some warmed ciabiatta and white wine to make a perfect Northern Italian dinner. Mangia!