Gnocchi are various thick, soft dumplings. They may be made from semolina, ordinary wheat flour, potato, bread crumbs, or similar ingredients. The smaller forms are called gnocchetti.
Gnocchi are eaten as entrées (primi piatti), alternatives to soups (minestre), or pasta. They are widely available dried, frozen, or fresh in vacuum sealed packages in supermarkets and specialty stores. Classic accompaniments of gnocchi include tomato sauces, pesto, and melted butter (sometimes fried butter) with cheese. While they are often available frozen in specialty grocers, they are typically homemade in Italian and Italian-American households.
The word gnocchi may derive from the Italian word nocchio, meaning a knot in wood, or from nocca (meaning knuckle). It has been a traditional Italian pasta type of probably Middle Eastern origin since Roman times. It was introduced by the Roman Legions during the enormous expansion of the empire into the countries of the European continent. In the past 2,000 years, each country developed its own specific type of small dumplings, with the ancient gnocchi as their common ancestor. In Roman times, gnocchi were made from a semolina porridge-like dough mixed with eggs, and are still found in similar forms today, particularly Sardinia's malloreddus (although they do not contain eggs).
The use of potato is a relatively recent innovation, occurring after the introduction of the potato to Europe in the 16th century. Potato gnocchi are particularly popular in Abruzzo, Ciociaria and other provinces of Latium; they are better prepared with red potatoes.
One variety, gnocchi di pane (literally "bread lumps"), is made from bread crumbs and is popular in Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. Another variety from the latter region is spinach gnocchi.
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Neapolitan cuisine, wikipedia.org