How to make simple, Roman-style gnocchi

  • Chickpea Gnocchi with tomato sauce is a nod to panelle -- fritters that are a classic Sicilian street food.

    Chickpea Gnocchi with tomato sauce is a nod to panelle -- fritters that are a classic Sicilian street food. for The Washington Post by Goran Kosanovic

By Joe Yonan
The Washington Post
Updated 12/14/2016 6:57 AM

I've long thought more people needed to know about Roman-style gnocchi. The dish is quite different from the lightly boiled potato dumplings that most of us think of when we consider gnocchi. As much as I love the typical iteration, the Roman version -- squares of semolina (or sometimes polenta) layered in a casserole dish, topped with butter and cheese and baked -- is much easier to pull together at the end of a busy workday.

You don't eat them the same way, either: You pop the dumplings (heavenly if they're made right) into your mouth whole, or at least I do, and they're usually enrobed in a light sauce and could be combined with any number of other ingredients in a composed dish. The Roman gnocchi, on the other hand, is often shaped into pieces bigger than bite-size, so you use a fork, and it's usually served quite simply, with little more than a tomato sauce on the side, often as a starter.


I was reminded how much I appreciate the dish when I flipped through Antonio Carluccio's charming new book, "Vegetables" (Quadrille, 2016). Carluccio, 79, is an acclaimed Italian cook, writer and TV personality who lives in London, where he ran the Neal Street Restaurant and developed the Carluccio's cafe chain whose branches now number 97. (He also has two restaurants in the United States, both of them in the Washington, D.C., area.)

What I love most about Carluccio's book is the way he pays tribute to Italian traditions (such as the classic summer panzanella salad) while showing flashes of innovation (a lasagna made with thinly sliced beet rather than noodles). The latter is what he applies to Roman-style gnocchi, making it with chickpea flour as a smart nod to the fritters called panelle that are a classic Sicilian street food. The dish has just a handful of ingredients -- including eggs, nutmeg, butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano -- which add up to something wonderfully flexible that also happens to be gluten-free. I enjoyed several squares of it one night fresh from the oven and topped with a little tomato sauce, and the next night I warmed a few more and spooned on saucy black beans and crumbled a little feta over them.

It probably wasn't all that Italian the second time, but who cares?

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