When you go out for North End Italian food, there are certain things you expect to see on the menu. Pasta, marsala, parmigiana, ravioli, and other familiar foods typically populate the menus of high-end Italian restaurants and casual eateries alike. But there’s another item we also expect at Italian restaurants: gnocchi.
There are many varieties of pasta in Italian food, but none of them are quite like gnocchi. Gnocchi has a different texture and flavor than other pasta because there are potatoes as well as flour in the dough. But gnocchi has not always been made the way we know it today.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at gnocchi and how it became a staple of North End Italian food.
The earliest references to gnocchi that we know about date back to 14th-century Italy. At this time, gnocchi’s primary ingredient was semolina flour or breadcrumbs. Early on, wealthy people mainly consumed gnocchi because wheat flour was an expensive ingredient. It wasn’t until Europeans reached the New World in the 16th century that gnocchi started to resemble what we know today.
Ingredients from the New World
There are multiple ingredients that we think of as indispensable to the cuisine of many European countries that are “New World crops.” These are foods that were only grown in the Americas before the Columbian Exchange brought them to Europe. Among these New World crops are both tomatoes and potatoes. It’s hard to imagine Italian food without tomatoes, but before 1492, there weren’t any in Europe. The same is true of potatoes. But once they did make it to Europe, they quickly become a more affordable alternative to wheat. With the introduction of potatoes to the dough, people from all economic and social classes could make and enjoy gnocchi.
As with all Italian foods, each region of Italy has its own variation of gnocchi. For example, in northern regions such as Lombardy and Veneto, gnocchi dough is a combination of potatoes and wheat flour, which results in a softer and lighter texture. Southern regions like Sardinia favor durum wheat semolina, giving the gnocchi a firmer consistency.
Traditional Italian Food in Boston’s North End
For authentic and traditional Italian food in the North End, come to Lo Conte’s Restaurant! We have our old standards, including gnocchi with sauteed veal and mushrooms, garlic, fresh basil, and sundried tomatoes in red sauce. And if that’s not to your taste, we have plenty of other options!