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Make Gno Mistake

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W hen an intrepid eater of our acquaintance turned to us one recent night while dining at the East Village restaurant Bianca, scrunched up her nose, and admonished, sotto voce, “These are the worst gnocchi I’ve ever tasted,” we knew it was time for a pasta primer. The offending gnocchi, it turned out, weren’t. Instead, they were gnocco fritto (and pretty good ones)-a subtle distinction, perhaps, but an important one, since gnocco fritto are puffy pillows of fried dough, served with cured Italian meats in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region (and at an increasing number of salumi-crazed Manhattan restaurants). The little lumps known as gnocchi are much easier to recognize-except when they’re gnudi, the toothsome ricotta dumplings thrust into the culinary spotlight by April Bloomfield at the gastropub the Spotted Pig (and proliferating everywhere, much like the gastropub concept itself). And gnocchi, that definitive old-school peasant food, have moved well beyond the red-sauce arena to become an unlikely (but welcome) side dish at haute steakhouses like Quality Meats and BLT Steak. Clearly, a little clarification is in order.


Gnocchi
Pronounced nyo-key
Translates literally as “lump.” The nugget-size Italian Ur-dumpling is most typically made from potato and flour, but may also be fashioned from ingredients like sweet potato, ricotta, semolina, spinach, or peas. Traditionally served Italian-style in small primi portions, with tomato sauce, pesto, or ragu Bolognese. Also, in its singular form, gnocco is both one individual dumpling and Italian slang for a dull-witted oaf, as in, “You silly gnocco, don’t you know the difference between gnocchi and gnudi?” Exemplary specimens can be found at Esca (pictured), Piccola Venezia , Hearth, Babbo, Lupa, and Craft.


Gnocco Fritto
Pronounced nyo-ko free-to
Emilia-Romagnan specialty popularized in New York at the Flatiron restaurant Via Emilia, a gnocco fritto is a puffy pillow of dough made from flour, water, and lard that’s deep-fried in oil-or, if you’re lucky, more lard-and served with prosciutto and other cured meats. Eaten out of hand like tea sandwiches (raised pinkie not required), they’re draped with slices of salumi, folded in half, and accompanied, preferably, with a glass of fizzy Lambrusco. “There’s a disturbing trend in Modena, where I’m from, to eat the gnocco fritto with stracchino cheese and arugula,” says Via Emilia owner William Matteo. “Blasphemy!” Tuck into a plate at Via Emilia (below), the aptly named Gnocco Caffe, Bianca, and Abboccato.


Gnudi
Pronounced nyoo-dee
Florentine creation also known as gnudi ravioli (naked ravioli), ignudi, and nudi, usually made from (we hope untainted) spinach or Swiss chard and ricotta, and very little flour, and often served in a butter-and-sage sauce. Think of them as loosely packed ravioli fillings shaped into little lumps without their doughy ponchos. Seek them out at Falai (pictured), the Spotted Pig, Felidia, Del Posto, and under various aliases at other fine Italian restaurants (see “malfatti” at Al di La, “strozzapreti” at Maremma).


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