In Italy today the most common kind of gnocchi is made with potatoes and flour, but the origin of this plate dates back to the Middle Ages, with recipes written a few centuries before the discovery of the New World. Besides, even after the 16th century, gnocchi refers to different preparations made with many ingredients: usually, grated bread, cheese, eggs, and flour. Still today there are semolina gnocchi, called gnocchi alla Romana, an example of the continuity of the culinary tradition throughout the centuries.
It is unclear what is the origin of the term, but we suppose it may refer to the size and shape of this kind of pasta. Gnocchi, nocchi or nochi, indeed, are described in relation to the kind of nut they look like: walnut (nocchie or nochie in medieval vernacular), chestnut, pine nuts (pinocchi or pignocchi), or hazelnuts. Still today, noce (walnut) is a unit of measurement in Italian, used often for the butter.
The recipe we are presenting today is taken from an anonymous 14th century Tuscan manuscript, published in a print edition for the first time in 1887 with the title Frammento di un Libro di Cucina del Secolo XIV.
Below, you will find the original text with our translation into English, the method with a note, and the video of the recipe with subtitles in English and Italian. Enjoy!
300 gr cheese
3 egg yolks
50 gr white wheat flour
aged sheep cheese
Cut and pound the cheese in the mortar, then mix with the raw egg yolks and the flour. The consistency of the dough needs to be quite soft. Shape roughly the dough into two cylinders two-finger thick. Place abundant water in a pot and make it boil. When it boils, add a couple of pinches of salt and pour hot water on a cutting board. Place one of the cylinders on the board and cut pieces about one-finger thick making them fall into the boiling water. Cook for about one minute. As soon as the gnocchi surface on the water, drain and plate them.
Serve with a good amount of grated sheep cheese.
Note about the method and ingredients
In the recipe there are no directions about the kind of cheese, just to use fresh and grated cheese. In the Middle Ages, there were fresh, firm, and hard cheeses made with cow, buffalo, sheep, and goat milk. You can use the ones you prefer.
The author mentions migliacci to describe the consistency of the dough. From other manuscripts, we find out that this was a kind of cheesecake, prepared with a soft mix of eggs, cheese, and flour. It is important to use a little quantity of flour, just enough to allow the dough to keep its shape. Too much flour would make the dough hard: as a consequence, it would need a long cooking time, making the gnocchi dissolving in the water. We suggest using a fresh cheese with a little content of humidity for the same reason.
Togli lo cascio fresco e pestalo; poscia togli la farina et intridi con tuorla d’uova a modo di migliacci. Poni il paiuolo al fuoco con acqua e quando bolle, poni lo triso in su in uno taglieri, fallo andare con la cazza nel paiuolo, e quando sono cotti, poni sopra gli taglieri e getta su assai cacio grattugiato.
Take fresh cheese and pound it; then, take flour and mix with egg yolks in a similar way as migliacci. Place a pot filled with water on the fire. When it boils, place the dough on a plate and with a ladle make it enter in the pot. Once they are cooked, place them on the plates and coat with a good amount of grated cheese.
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