If you’re craving comfort food and don’t feel like spending ages putting something together, here’s one of those easy, satisfying and delicious baked dishes that combines store-bought gnocchi, your favorite cheeses and fresh spinach.
Vacuum packed gnocchi is available from most supermarkets and I like to use the plain variety for this recipe but it comes in assorted varieties such as sun-dried tomato, spinach, garlic and gluten-free, so play around with it.
As for the cheese and based on what’s in my fridge, I’ve made this with English Stilton, fresh goat cheese, feta, Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano. Soft fresh goat cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano is a great combination; use whatever you prefer but avoid the processed stuff and sprinkle the top with real Italian Parmigiano – it’s well worth the investment as it has more flavor and you’ll use less of it (unlike inferior varieties labeled ‘parmesan’ or worst of all, that ready-grated tasteless stuff posing as parmesan that comes in cardboard sprinkle-ready containers).
Depending on my mood, I’ll make the sauce with low fat or skim milk, or half and half/ thin cream – it works either way but it’s slightly more satisfying when made with cream.
This basic sauce recipe can be used for making lasagna and other baked pasta dishes; everything can be assembled ahead and kept covered in the fridge.
BAKED GNOCCHI with SPINACH and CHEESE
One 17 oz (500g) pack of ready made gnocchi
Béchamel sauce (easy version recipe to follow)
4 good handfuls of ready washed baby spinach leaves
2-3 oz (57-85g) of your favorite cheese, diced, crumbled or grated
2 oz (57g) of freshly grated Parmigiano Regianno
For the quick white (béchamel) sauce:
1 pint (480ml) of skim milk/whole milk/half and half/thin cream
2 oz (57g) of plain/all purpose flour
2 oz (57g) of butter
1 bay leaf
A wedge of peeled fresh onion
A good grind of fresh nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 375F (190C)
Butter a shallow quart / liter ovenproof dish and add the uncooked gnocchi, scattered with 3 oz of diced, crumbled or grated cheese.
Over a low heat, combine all the sauce ingredients together in a wide saucepan, whisking constantly to prevent lumps and to help melt the butter – bring slowly to a simmer and allow it to bubble gently for 2 minutes until thickened.
Turn off the heat and remove the onion and bay leaf. Immediately add half of the grated Parmigiano – give it a good stir and as soon as it’s melted, add the spinach and mix together well until the leaves have wilted.
Carefully pour the sauce with spinach over the gnocchi and cheese – gently combining everything until the gnocchi is well-coated.
Sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano over the top and bake for 25-35 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Let it rest for a couple of minutes before eating.