Gnocchi con salsa di peperoni rossi

Gnocchi … a new take on an old recipe


There is a popular conception that Italians are very conservative when it comes to their food. However, this isn’t always true and certainly the younger generation, while being very respectful to their nonnas’ way of doing things, are happy to experiment even if they often go back to the old way of doing things. I created this recipe  for gnocchi as an experiment, to try and revisit an old one. As you will read, it revives a now lost nineteenth-century way of doing things with a modern twist.

The origins of gnocchi

Most people are familiar with potato gnocchi, those small fluffy pasta substitutes which are a staple of most Italian restaurant menus. The name, which is thought to derive from the word for knuckle, nocca, is consistent with an Ancient origin. These dumplings resemble the animal knuckle bones which the Ancient Romans used as dice. The potato version, obviously does not have a Roman origin since the potato only reached Europe in the 16th Century. However, there are older versions of the recipe that don’t use potato at all.

ID 40148220 © Laupri |
Gnocchi as we know and love them.

Gnocchi alla Romana

There are also older versions of the recipe in which they are not small, knuckle shaped-things, but larger, disk-shaped things. This has given rise to the theory that the names derives not from nocca but from the Venetian word gnoco which meant a wood knot. One such example is gnocchi alla romana in which disks are made with semolina are cooked in the oven with butter and grated cheese.

ID 104101931 © Robyn Mackenzie |
Gnocchi alla romana

Gnocchi giovedì

In Rome there is a tradition that you eat gnocchi on Thursdays. In fact, there’s a saying giovedì gnocchi, venerdì pesce e sabato trippa (gnocchi on Thursday, fish on Friday, and tripe on Saturday). No one knows where this comes from but it’s thought to derive from the fact that, for religious reasons, people ate less on Fridays. So on Thursday you needed a hearty meal to make up for it.

Traditonal Italian cookbooks

There are two cookbooks which are considered to be the bibles of Italian cuisine. One of these is Il Cucchiaio d’Argento (The Silver Spoon) first published in 1950. In the post-war period there was a revival of interest in Italy as a nation, and at this point many regional dishes, made it to the national rather than local level. Il Chucchiaio d’Argento contains contemporary recipes as well as all the classics.

Pellegrino Artusi

The other book is La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well) by Pellegrino Artusi, published in 1891. Although it contains recipes from all over Italy, Artusi who was from Emilia-Romagna and lived in Florence, wrote about what he and his cook knew and so the recipes are predominantly Tuscan. Artusi’s recipes are often a bit vague and contain shortcuts, assuming the reader knows how to do particular things. Reading the two cookbooks together gives an interesting insight into how Italian food changed (or not) in the 150 years between their publication.

Gnocchi my style

This recipe for gnocchi is adpated from Artusi and it’s a sort of halfway house between potato gnocchi and gnocchi alla romana. It uses potato and a random ingredient: chicken. You could pre-cook the chicken any way you like but boiling it creates a really moist stringy texture, which makes it incredibly easy to chop finely, essential for working it into the gnocchi dough.

Gnocchi con salsa di peperoni rossi
Gnocchi con salsa di peperoni rossi


Artusi serves his gnocchi in the chicken broth they are cooked in, but I chose to serve them with a red pepper and basil sauce.  I’ve also chosen to make them into flat disks reminiscent of gnocchi alla romana.

So here’s the recipe and buon appetito!

Gnocchi con salsa di peperoni rossi

This recipe is based on a nineteenth-century one by food guru Pellegrino Artusi. Whilst firmly grounded in Italian tradition, it's been updated for the twenty-first century. Buon appetito! Print This
Serves: 4 Prep Time: Cooking Time:
Rating: 4.0/5
( 2 voted )


  • For the red pepper sauce:
  • 4 red Bull's Horn peppers
  • 2 San Marzano tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 100 ml (3 fluid ounces) water
  • a pinch of salt
  • 10 basil leaves
  • For the gnocchi:
  • 200g (1/2 pound) floury potatoes, peeled
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 40g (2 tablespoons) parmigiano reggiano, grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 40g (3 tablespoons) plain flour
  • 1 litre (2 pints) chicken broth
  • For the garnish:
  • red and yellow peppers
  • fresh basil


Make the red pepper sauce:

  1. Heat the oven to 230° C (445° F).
  2. Seed and cut the peppers into flat strips. Place on a baking tray lined with tin foil and roast in the oven until the skins come free, about 15 minutes.
  3. Leave to cool, then remove the skins and chop finely.
  4. Put the onion and garlic in a pan with the oil and heat gently until softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes and wine, boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the balsamic vinegar, water, and salt and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  7. Leave to cool, then add the basil leaves and blend to make a sauce.

 Make the gnocchi:

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces. Place in a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. At the same time, place a chicken breast in a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes until cooked through.
  3. Drain the potatoes and then press them through a sieve with the back of a spoon.
  4. Cut the chicken breast into small pieces with a hachoir.
  5. Mix the chicken and potato together. Leave to cool a little.
  6. Add the cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the potato and chicken. Mix well.
  7. Add the flour and mix together to form a dough.
  8. Bring a saucepan of chicken stock the the boil.
  9. Roll the dough until 1cm (1/2 inch) thick and then cut into 5cm (2 inch) circles with a pastry cutter.
  10. Place the circles in the stock and cook for 5-6 minutes. Serve on top of the red pepper sauce. Garnish with finely chopped red and yellow peppers, and basil.


3 thoughts on “Gnocchi … a new take on an old recipe”

    1. I know. But I discovered that that’s because ‘alla romana’ means ‘in the style of the ancient Romans’ and not the modern ones. Will have to make some 🙂

  1. Pingback: Panzanella: quick lunches #2 « Chestnuts and Truffles

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