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Eric Akis: Italian meatballs, arugula add gusto to gnocchi

When you want to dress up store-bought gnocchi, try this marinara sauce enriched with Italian sausage meatballs and peppery arugula.
Gnocchi in marinara sauce with sausage meatballs and wilted arugula. ERIC AKIS

When it comes to meal making, despite my professional culinary training I, like many other folks cooking at home, don’t always want to fuss and make everything from scratch.

Such was the case the other night when I had a craving for potato gnocchi. I have a recipe for making these Italian-style, pasta-like dumplings myself, but lacked the inspiration to do so.

The good news was that I knew that I could buy good quality, ready-to-cook gnocchi at most grocery stores, which I did. To prepare them, all you need to do is add them to simmering water and when they float to the surface, they’re cooked.

To make a meal of those gnocchi, I added them to a tomato sauce that had meatballs and arugula in it. And, as with the gnocchi, I kept their preparation simple.

The sauce was marinara sauce, which you can readily buy jars of, ready to heat and use. In my recipe, though, I have given you the option to make your own homemade marinara sauce, if you prefer.

With regard to the meatballs, rather than mixing ground meat with seasonings and forming it into balls, I simply bought fresh Italian sausages, removed their casings and then rolled the meat into balls. After roasting them, they are simmered in the marinara sauce awhile, infusing their spiced/herb taste into it.

The cooked gnocchi and fresh arugula are then added to the sauce. And when the arugula has wilted, the gnocchi is ready to serve, with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, which you can sprinkle on at the table. Add some garlic bread, if desired, and you’ll have a very inviting, comforting dinner.

Gnocchi with Italian Sausage Meatballs and Arugula

Store-bought gnocchi added to marinara sauce enriched with Italian sausage meatballs and peppery arugula.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: About 35 minutes

Makes: Three servings

4 (about 60 gram each) Italian sausages (see Note 1)

2 cups marinara sauce (see Note 2)

1/4 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup white wine (see Eric’s options)

1 (500 gram) package potato gnocchi

1 1/2 cups packed arugula (see Note 3 and Eric’s options)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• chopped fresh parsley, to taste (optional)

• freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the casings from the sausages and then pull the meat into 15 to 16, 1-inch or so pieces. Roll the pieces of sausage into balls and set on the baking sheet. Roast the sausage meatballs 16 to 18 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from the oven.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a simmer over medium, medium-high heat.

While it comes to temperature, place the marinara sauce, stock and wine in a 10-inch or similar sized skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and bring to a gentle simmer, lowering heat as needed to maintain that simmer. Gently simmer meatballs 10 minutes. Cover and then reserve on low heat.

When water is simmering, add the gnocchi and cook until they float to the surface, about two to three minutes. Scoop gnocchi out of the water and into the skillet with the sauce and meatballs. Add the arugula, gently mix to coat it with the sauce and then season with salt and pepper, as needed. When arugula has wilted, sprinkle gnocchi with parsley, if using. The gnocchi are now ready to serve with Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling on the gnocchi at the table.

Note 1: I used locally made, full of flavour, Berryman Farms Italian sausages when testing this recipe. For a list of stores selling them, go to, click on the menu and then on Where to Buy.

Note 2: You can use your favourite store-bought brand of marinara sauce for this recipe. If you would like to make your own and don’t have a recipe, Google “Eric Akis marinara sauce” and you’ll find one for it.

Note 3: Tubs of arugula are sold in the produce section of most grocery stores.

Eric’s options: If you don’t want to use wine, simply replace with more stock. Instead of using arugula, try adding a similar amount of baby spinach to the gnocchi.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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