A few months ago during our 25th anniversary trip, Lolly and I stopped by the ritzy little hamlet known as Carmel-by-the-Sea in California to do a little reminiscing. Many years ago during our time out in Monterey with the military, which is where met, incidentally, Carmel was a favorite place to hang out on weekends, and has probably the best beach on the Monterey Peninsula.
While there we enjoyed some adult beverages and an appetizer at a quaint Italian restaurant called Little Napoli, which is tucked away on a side street and comes complete with a lovely little shaded courtyard. I would highly recommend the place if you’re ever in town, and have included a link below for your perusing pleasure. The dish we ordered was a garlicky baked gnocchi with fontina and parmesan, and we were both impressed at just how intensely flavorful a few simple ingredients could be when combined properly.
What follows is my humble attempt to play off that authentic Italian goodness, but to turn it into a full blown entrée dish. To that end I added some mild Italian sausage and my own blend of cheeses. Here is what popped out of the oven:
This was totally made up on the fly, and maybe not as awe-inspiring as what we had at that restaurant, but it was still pretty yummy. Here are your necessaries:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp. chopped oregano leaves
- Cracked pepper to taste
- 1 lb. potato gnocchi
- 1 lb. Italian sausage links
- 2 cups shredded Italian cheeses (e.g. fontina, asiago, parmesan)
- 1 tbsp. fresh chopped basil leaves
A word about the cheeses: use whatever you like best. Fontina and mozzarella are great melting cheeses, but are not as flavorful as some others like asiago. I chose the latter, and combined it with some others that I just happened to have on hand — shredded Bellavitano and some leftover mascarpone, which is a little sweet and creates a nice balance to the spicy sausage. I also worked a little grated reggiano into the mix. The point is, do whatever makes your little heart flutter — it’s all going to be yummy.
In a small saucepan combine the olive oil, garlic, oregano and pepper, and place over very low heat for about 30 minutes to infuse the flavors into the oil. While that is working, preheat your oven to 450 and start some salted water to boil your gnocchi. By the way, I used store-bought gnocchi for this dish since they’re such labor-intensive little buggers to make by hand, especially on a Thursday after work — there’s no shame in that.
Next, slice the sausage links diagonally (or “on the bias” for those who prefer chef-speak) to about 1/2″ thick. It’s up to you whether you remove the casings from the sausage — I didn’t. It makes for easier slicing with them on, but the downside is that some of the slices may try to curl up a bit during frying. Speaking of frying, that’s our next step. I used a cast iron pan with just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Heat the pan a little more than medium and give the sausage slices a good brown on both sides, which takes about 10 minutes to accomplish. When the sausage is finished cooking, remove it from the heat.
Time to toss your gnocchi into the water and cook until they begin to float to the top, which should take less than 5 minutes. Drain the gnocchi with a colander and transfer them to a mixing bowl. Pour your infused oil through a strainer into the gnocchi, and toss to coat them evenly. Now combine the oiled gnocchi and sausage in a baking dish, sprinkle generously with your cheeses and finish with the chopped basil. Bake for about 15 minutes until the cheese is thoroughly melted and just beginning to develop a little browning, like so…
We served this up with a simple garden salad and a glass of DOCG Chianti, and munched it right down with a big happy grin on our faces. The whole dish comes together in about an hour from start to finish, and is well worth the effort. It’s not even a little bit healthy — in fact it’s a heart attack on a plate, but you gotta live a little. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!