Gnocchi is a divisive pasta in my house. I’m a huge fan, but my husband can’t stand it. And I get where he’s coming from! He complains that every time he’s eaten gnocchi they’ve been gloopy, pasty little pasta nuggets that sat in his stomach like lead balloons. I have also been served many a gnocchi that fits this description. Gnocchi is made from a mixture of flour and cooked potatoes, and honestly, it should not be treated the same way as other pastas. You can toss almost any pasta half-assedly into sauce and it will end up being pretty decent; gnocchi needs a little more assistance, but fortunately not that much. You just need to remember that gnocchi is its own thing.
Because gnocchi is heavier than other pastas, I never portion it out the same; pasta noodles can take up an entire plate, but gnocchi should be a smaller part of something bigger. In this recipe I used tiny tomatoes, because I happened to have a ton of tiny tomatoes. I love tiny tomatoes! They’re sweet and perpetually on sale at the supermarket, so they’re something I always keep in the fridge. (If you don’t have tiny tomatoes, you can use any size tomato you have.) When tomatoes of any size are perfectly ripe and ultra tasty, they need little more than salt to turn into something special, so that’s what I did here: cut tomatoes, toss in salt, and walk away. The longer you let tomatoes sit like this the better they get, breaking down into something that resembles more of a chunky, raw tomato sauce than a simple tomato salad, which I find makes this recipe particularly enticing. I made this last week as lunch for two people, and it gave us pretty spectacular leftovers to eat for second lunch a few hours later. (Second lunch, which is at 4 p.m., should not be confused with first dinner, which is at 5:30.)
As for the “gloopiness,” that’s caused by the swollen potato starch that coats the outside of each gnocchi. It’s easy to make that go away if you pan fry them after boiling, or if you toss them with a loose, watery sauce, as the gnocchi will thicken it into a pleasurable consistency. My newfound infatuation with my air fryer gave me another idea: what if I thought of gnocchi more like croutons for a salad, and “fried” them into crispy little potato nuggets? I am pleased to report that this was one of my better decisions, and I shall be making gnocchi this way a lot more often. (For those of you who do not have an air fryer, you can pan fry the gnocchi, or roast them in a 450-degree oven until brown and crispy. I did not test either method for this recipe, so you’ll have to figure out timing on your own.)
If you have fresh basil, it would be fantastic in this dish. I didn’t, so I used curly parsley, which I think is one of the most underrated items in the produce aisle. If you don’t have any fresh herbs, don’t sweat it; if you do, use what you’ve got. And speaking of using what you’ve got: this recipe was assembled using items I almost always have in my fridge and pantry, and the total cost of this dish comes out to around $10. How often do you get to have something that looks this fancy for that cheap?
For the tomato sauce
- 2-4 fat cloves of garlic
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 pints tomatoes (whatever you’ve got)
- 1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Fresh basil or curly parsley
For the gnocchi
- 1 (1-lb.) package gnocchi
- 4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter
- 1 1/2 tsp. white miso or 2-3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan (I used miso because it’s crazy good, and also because I was out of Parmesan)
- 2 fat cloves garlic
To make the sauce: Microplane the garlic into a large bowl, then stir in the olive oil. Rinse the tomatoes well, then slice in half and throw into the bowl with the salt and a bit of freshly cracked pepper. Toss for about 30 seconds to make sure everything is well coated, then cover and set aside on the counter for at least 20 minutes. (If you’d like the tomatoes to break down into a saucier consistency, let them hang out in the fridge for at least an hour, or for a day or so.)
To make the gnocchi: Fill a medium saucepan with water, add a heavy pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Microplane the garlic into a decently sized microwave-safe bowl; add the butter and cook in the microwave for 1-2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant. Add the miso or cheese, stir will with a fork until things are mostly blended, and set next to the pot on the stove.
When the water comes to a boil, begin preheating your air fryer to 400 degrees. Add the gnocchi to the pot of water; when they begin to float, scoop them up in batches with a handheld strainer, gently shake to drain off excess water, then plop them into the bowl of miso butter and use a silicone spatula to gently fold until they are well coated.
Put the gnocchi in the air fryer for 3 minutes, then give them a good shake to make sure they’re separated (the butter should keep them from sticking, but if they do, just pry them apart with a fork). Air fry for another 3 minutes, shake again, and continue frying until they are crispy and golden brown on the outside. In my basket model, this took 10 minutes, but cooking times will vary depending on your make and model. Just keep an eye on things.
When you’re ready to serve, give the tomatoes a little taste, then add more salt and pepper as you see fit. Spoon the tomatoes into bowls, add some freshly torn basil or curly parsley, and top with fried gnocchi. Pour some of the juices that have settled at the bottom of the tomato bowl on top, add some grated cheese if you’re feeling it, and enjoy.