The traditional Gnocchi alla Sorrentina recipe first became popular between the 15th to the 17th century in Sorrento, Italy. Sorrento is a historic town clinging to the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. Sorrento is beautiful, charming and full of lemon trees. Cooks in Sorrento experimented with the new ingredients coming from the Americas when explorers returned to Europe with their ships full of exotic fruits and vegetables including potatoes and tomatoes. Potato gnocchi were created by adding mashed potatoes to the classic pasta dough of flour and eggs and formed into dumplings. Then the sauce was made with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, so as to mix the New World with the Old.
In the nineteenth century, Pellegrino Artusi, the “grandfather” of Italian cuisine, published a recipe for potato gnocchi prepared in exactly the same way that we see today, complete with the story of a woman whose gnocchi disappeared in the pot she was boiling them in—because she hadn’t used enough flour to hold them together. He first shapes his gnocchi into pinky-sized pieces and then rolls them against the back of a cheese grater for texture. That texture, whether created by rolling gnocchi with the tines of a fork or with a special wooden utensil, help give the otherwise smooth dumplings little nooks and crannies where sauce can hide, and guarantee full flavor with every bite.
The word gnocchi is thought to come from nocca, which means knuckles, or from the Lombard word knohha, which means knot (such as wood knot) or walnut—all words that imply the small, tight, rounded shape of gnocchi that we know today.
(Written By Michael Sundburg)