Image of gnocchi on a chopping board

What Gnocchi Means to Me

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is my all-time favourite pasta dish. This delicious pasta dish comes from Sorrento, a small coastal village close to Naples. Growing up in an Italian family, we ate Italian food all the time, however, due to the time it took to make home-made gnocchi, it was the one dish that was kept for ‘special’ occasions. My Italian ‘Nonna’, my Mum’s Mum, taught me how to make fresh gnocchi. She always said that home-made gnocchi was so much better than the ‘fresh gnocchi’ that you can buy in supermarkets. She was so right. The packet gnocchi does not taste anything like the real thing, no matter what sauce accompanies this dish!

Nonna Paolina in her delicatessen in Monghidoro, Italy (taken in late 1960s)

I learned how to cook from an early age. I used to climb up on a stool in our kitchen as I was too small to reach the work surface. I loved being next to Nonna when she cooked. It was a privilege to have been taught first-hand some of her delicious recipes, some of which I still cook today. Her memory lives on in our food. Nonna loved food, my grandparents had a delicatessen-style shop in the mountain-top village they lived in. Here is a photo that I came across of my Nonna in her shop taken in the late 1960s.

Nonna always started by boiling the potatoes (about one kilo for a family of 4). She cooked them with their skins on, then very carefully peeled them while they were still hot. She would mash them immediately. I always loved this part as I got to have a go at mashing the potatoes, I enjoyed seeing them flatten and change shape under my masher. I still remember how animated my Nonna was when she cooked or talked about food. She had a large wooden board that she always took out when she made fresh pasta. Once the potatoes were mashed, she put them on her board to allow the steam to evaporate quickly, then she added one beaten egg and a spoon of salt and began to mix it all together before adding flour (about 250g). Kneading the mixture until it formed into a smooth dough was the part I loved best, then we rolled it into what looked like a long log and cut it into pieces of about 2cm in length. 

Next Nonna would focus on the sauce. She heated a dash of olive oil in a pan (special extra virgin olive oil) and added some garlic, once it was softened, she added a tin of chopped tomatoes and a cup of water along with a handful of fresh basil leaves. This then bubbled away for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, Nonna boiled the water for the pasta, when the sauce was nearly ready she gently dropped the gnocchi into the water. As soon as it reached the surface, which was just a couple of minutes, it was ready. I stood on my stool, close to the cooker and watched as the pasta rose. I still remember the excitement of seeing the pasta reach the surface, one at a time, then all of them together and would scream with delight when they hit the top of the pan. Once the gnocchi was drained and the sauce expertly poured on top, Nonna topped the dish with slices of fresh mozzarella which melted with the heat of the pasta and added a sprinkling of parmesan. 

Even after all these years gnocchi all Sorrentina is still my favourite pasta dish for so many reasons, but mainly because of the taste and the wonderful memories of growing up learning to cook with my Nonna. I hope you enjoy trying this recipe and enjoy the flavours of this dish as much as I do. Remember to post your experiences in the comments below.


  1. I’m going to try to make that this weekend, it sounds delicious. How wonderful to have those memories and how even better to be a child of Italy!

    • Gnocchi is a delicious dish, You can mix it with a variety of sauces, tomato-based or ragu (a meat-based, Bolognese-style sauce), Let me know how you got on making gnocchi Jane. Yes, it really is wonderful having lots of food memories and making more. I am delighted to be of Italian descent.

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