"Gnocco fritto" or "Torta fritta"?

An emilian, Hamletic, doubt

by Fabio Sala



Why the same product, made with the same ingredients, and prepared in the same way has different names depending on the city in which it is prepared? We are talking about gnocco fritto, a sort of fried dumpling, (as it's called in the Modena and Reggio Emilia areas) and torta fritta, literally a fried cake (as it is usually called in Parma and surroundings). To try to explain why this difference (very superficial because what matters is to taste this typical emilian joy) we must start from the product’s origins, that are lost in the mists of gastronomic time. It’s necessary to go back to the Lombards who, after the Roman Empire’s fell, conquered this land. Among the Lombards was widespread the culinary use of lard. Thanks to this people, gnocco fritto (it’s mandatory to specify the "fried" because with only the word "gnocco" the connection is to a flatbread made baked) spread among the local people and became one of the typical dishes of the Emilia tradition.

Gnocco fritto was the daily food of the farmers until the 60's. Nowadays it is a product that is also used in major restaurants and a family tradition carried on, mainly by grandmothers.

So why in Parma it is called torta fritta? Basically because during the first few times this product, in these areas, was tasted it was dusted with sugar and eaten after a meal, as a dessert (hence just "torta"). Later, however, it was discovered that it could also be tasted without sugar and combining it with cold cuts and cheese. A sweet-salty delicatessen able to marry, in a new way, local products. So it has remained the name, though now you eat it very rarely after lunch as sweet. Usually it happens as an appetizer in restaurants, but also, at home, as a dish itself, as a "compliment", as an interlude, to fill a hole in the stomach or to introduce lunch or dinner. Some piece of torta fritta, a sliver of Parmesan cheese or a slice of salami, a glass of lambrusco is in fact the most traditional emilian aperitif.


Ingredients for the preparation of gnocco o torta fritta: don’t worry you can call them whatever you want. It only depends on where you are! But do not forget that you are eating the same thing.

70 grams of lard;

500 grams of flour 0;

10 grams of salt;

180 ml of water;

12 g of fresh yeast;

1 teaspoon of sugar.

Preparation: Crumble the yeast into a bowl. Add the teaspoon of sugar and pour 50 ml of warm water. Mix by dissolving everything and then add 2 tablespoons of flour and let it rest for half an hour. Half an hour later pour the contents of the bowl in a larger bowl to where you put the remaining flour. Add the lard and salt to the bowl and then pour about 125 ml of water (still warm). When the salt is dissolved pour all the water and knead until you get a bundle of smooth paste. Awarded the dough, seal the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for about 4 hours. After 4 hours take a rolling pin and roll the dough. Cut the dough into many squares the size of 8-10 cm. Meanwhile heat the oil (but better yet lard) in a large skillet. Once hot, dip the squares of dough and fry.

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