Baked Gnocchi And Italian Sausage Casserole…

I made this recipe the other night and posted a picture of it on some of my Facebook groups and got quite a bit of positive feedback about it, actually much more than I expected. That got me to thinking that I should be sharing this recipe with my blog readers as well.

I didn’t take as many pictures as I normally do when I intend to post a recipe, but I’m thinking that’s not a problem as this really wasn’t a recipe I was planning on posting. The couple of pictures I did take more than show how delicious this recipe is.

Baked Gnocchi and Sausage Casserole

This whole thing started when I looked in my pantry and noticed I had a package of potato gnocchi that I needed to use. I wanted to do more than just boil the gnocchi and add some marinara sauce and so I started rummaging through what I had in my refrigerator and pantry to see if I could embellish the recipe. And I think I did.

So let’s talk Baked Gnocchi and Sausage Casserole…

Lesson Learned 1 – If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, get one: Cast iron cookware is probably the most perfect cooking equipment you can buy. First, it’s inexpensive. Second, once a pan is heated, it retains an even heat throughout. Third, cast iron can go from stove top to oven with absolutely no worries.

So what are the drawbacks? First, cast iron is heavy. Many people don’t like using cast iron just for that reason. Second, you need to season the skillet. Once seasoned a cast iron skillet will clean as easy or even easier than any of your other pans. Seasoning instructions usually come with the skillet when your purchase it. I highly recommend using a cast iron skillet for this recipe. But if you don’t have one, any pan that can go from stove top to oven will do.

And one last thing, when I said a cast iron skillet heats throughout I mean throughout. That means the handle of the skillet will get equally as hot as the pan. Remember to use kitchen mitts when touching the handle or transferring the skillet from the stove top to the oven.

Lesson Learned 2 – For even better flavor marinate the mozzarella: I had some remnants of a fresh mozzarella ball in my refrigerator. I cut it into small chunks and poured some of the liquid from the jar of sun dried tomatoes over the mozzarella. I let the mozzarella marinate while I was preparing all of the other ingredients. Doing this increases the depth of flavor in the dish.

Lesson Learned 3 – For some extra punch add a small amount of red pepper flakes: Now I have to admit I didn’t add red pepper flakes to my casserole but after tasting it I thought it made a great candidate for adding additional kick.  Just be aware that not everyone likes it spicy. It’s all up to you.

Lesson Learned 4 – If at all possible use fresh basil instead of dried: I still had some herbs from my patio garden and so I was able to use fresh herbs. A quarter cup as called for in the recipe is a lot of basil and if that becomes too expensive you can simply use 2 teaspoons of dried basil instead. But fresh is always better.

And that’s it. The recipe is pretty straightforward but in my experience often the simple things are the best. And this also makes great tasting leftovers, so you can’t lose. I know you’ll enjoy this one…

Baked Gnocchi And Sausage Casserole...

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage

28 ounce can of diced tomatoes

1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, diced

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried basil)

1 pound package of gnocchi

5 ounces small mozzarella balls

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbs. sunflower oil, or use some of the oil from the sun dried tomatoes

Basil slices and freshly grated Parmesan for garnish, optional

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring to boil a large pan of salted water.

Place the mozzarella balls in a plastic bag that seals. Pour some of the sun dried tomato oil from the jar over the mozzarella balls. Seal the bag and let marinate until ready to use.

Heat the oil in a oven-proof skillet. Add the sausage, break it up with a spoon and cook until just barely done. Add the garlic and saute for one minute. Add the sun dried tomatoes, diced tomatoes, basil, and oregano. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer.

Put gnocchi into boiling salted water and cook until done. (gnocchi is cooked when it all rises to the top of the pot). Drain the gnocchi and stir it into the skillet. Add the mozzarella balls and stir to combine. Transfer pan to the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven and let it stand for 3-5 minutes. Garnish with basil and Parmesan. Serve with a salad and crusty bread.

Skewered Italian Appetizer Bites…

Sorry I’m a little off my game this week. I was waylaid by a bug bite that gave me an allergic reaction and I’ve been fighting this itching rash. Needless to say I’ve not been a happy camper. The meds I take for itching make me groggy and so it’s been hard to sit down at my computer and crank out my blog. But I’m thinking I’m on the mend, although still not itch free after almost 5 days. But I have noticed improvement and so that’s what I’m focusing on.

This weeks recipe is so darn simple and great for your backyard parties. In the warmer weather, the last thing you want to do is heat up the kitchen. Dishes that are cooler like potato salad and cole slaw seem to be more in demand. Also finger foods are more popular, especially when eating outdoors. You don’t have to mess around with a lot of utensils, just take the food and pop it in your mouth. Which is exactly what this recipe is all about.

So let’s talk skewered Italian bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – This is a great way to use some of the homemade pesto you’ve made from growing basil: pesto is what adds zip to this recipe and homemade pesto is the best. If you don’t have your favorite go-to pesto recipe feel free to use mine. But pesto gives these morsels just the kick they need.

Some things to keep in mind when dredging the mozzarella balls in pesto – my mozzarella balls were in a small plastic container stored in liquid. I bought a small container that had about 20 balls. I put the balls in a strainer and drained the liquid into another dish (just in case I had some balls leftover, I wanted to store them back in the same liquid). I then drained the balls on a paper towel.

This time I did not have fresh pesto on hand so I bought a small 6 oz. jar of traditional pesto. I spooned half to it into a small wide rimmed bowl and dropped some of the balls in the pesto. I rolled them around with a spoon and then skewered them on my decorative pics. Couldn’t be easier.

Lesson Learned 2 – If you want to serve these standing up versus lying down you will need to cut a flat surface on the bottom of each mozzarella ball: I learned this lesson the hard way. I started assembling the skewers and found that they would not stand straight. The round bottom of the ball prevented them from doing so. I tried pushing the bottom flat but that didn’t seem to work so I started cutting the bottoms off the balls and then figured out that I liked the presentation of the skewers better with the skewers lying on their sides. So I opted to serve them lying on one side versus standing up. There is no right way to serve these, but I found that serving them on their side created quite an impressive looking appetizer as you can see from the picture below…

And that’s it really. As I’ve said many times before sometimes the simplest of recipes are the most impressive. This will be a great recipe to use when you harvest your basil and cherry tomatoes. It’s an easy, pop in your mouth bite that will disappear off your party table in no time.

Skewered Italian Appetizer Bites...

  • Servings: Approx. 20
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 small container of cherry tomatoes

1 – 6 oz. jar of basil pesto (or make your own)

1 – 4 oz. package of sliced pepperoni (you will have some leftovers)

1 – 12 oz. container of mozzarella balls

Garlic infused olive oil

decorative picks for skewers

DIRECTIONS:

Put the basil pesto in a wide rimmed bowl. If using jarred pesto, start with half the jar and add more as needed to the bowl.

Strain the mozzarella balls making sure to save the liquid in case you need to store any leftover balls.  Place a few mozzarella balls in the pesto and roll them around with a spoon until they are covered with pesto (you will need to repeat this process a few times).

Assemble the skewers in the following manner – first skewer the tomatoes. Then add a pepperoni slice to each skewer. Lastly add the basil covered mozzarella ball and plate the skewers.

Store tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or serve immediately. Drizzle with garlic infused olive oil right before serving.

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