Gnocchi Lasagna with Spinach, White Beans, and Sausage

updated Jun 21, 2021
Gnocchi Lasagna with Spinach, White Beans, and Sausage

This crowd-pleasing casserole is surprisingly light and fresh, thanks to the addition of spinach and white beans. Use plant-based sausage instead of pork sausage to make it vegetarian.

Serves10 to 12

Prep5 minutes

Cook1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes

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Credit: Olive & Mango

Twenty years ago, a beefy baked ziti or a creamy chicken casserole might have been a shoo-in for a winning potluck main. But it’s 2020, and people’s habits have changed. A dish featuring nothing but cheese and meat just won’t cut it.

We wanted our modern main dish to feel familiar and comforting, while also being a little lighter and fresher. We also wanted it to be adjustable for a variety of dietary needs, easy to make, easy to transport, and tasty served warm or at room temperature. Ideally, it would also pair well with a variety of side dishes, and, of course, it had to earn its starring role with its downright delicious flavor.

This gnocchi bake does all that and then some. Utilizing a deep casserole dish, an easy homemade marinara sauce, and a top layer of bubbly mozzarella, it resembles a classic lasagna. But dig beneath that cheese cap and you’ll find gnocchi and hearty white beans have replaced the noodles, a full box of fresh spinach has been mixed in, and the sausage might even be vegetarian. Here’s how to make a gnocchi lasagna everyone at your potluck will love.

Credit: Olive & Mango

A Modern Casserole for Every Guest

Every step of this recipe was designed specifically for a potluck — and there are many kinds of potlucks, so there are smart swaps built in along the way. To begin, the marinara sauce is cooked with sweet or hot Italian sausage, but if you’re serving vegetarians, you can swap the meat for plant-based Beyond Sausage, which is available in grocery stores nationwide in both original and hot varieties (I prefer the latter, but opt for original if serving a spice-averse crowd).

After the marinara has been bubbling on the stove for a bit, you’ll switch off the heat and stir in a package of gnocchi. You don’t even have to pre-cook it simply stir the uncooked gnocchi into the marinara sauce, and it will cook in the sauce as the casserole bakes. Unlike lasagna noodles, the gnocchi won’t get mushy when sitting on a potluck spread — they remain wonderfully plump and tender (and the dish reheats well, too). Many store-bought gnocchi contains flour, so if you’re feeding a gluten-free crew, simply use a gluten-free gnocchi. Trader Joe’s cult-favorite cauliflower gnocchi works well, and will also scale back the carbs. How easy is that?

To keep this casserole from feeling too heavy (and to add some textural interest), we balanced out the gnocchi with similarly shaped, protein-packed white beans, and added a full five cups of fresh spinach. We also skipped the ricotta traditionally found in lasagna and opted instead for the tastier layer of fresh mozzarella and grated Parmesan on top (but feel free to serve some ricotta on the side).

If you’re hosting, this dish is delicious served warm. But if you transport it to the party and serve it a few hours later, it will still be great — and it’s saucy enough that it won’t thicken up. For the easiest transportation, bake it in a deep-dish casserole pan with a lid (we like this Pyrex one). Alternatively, wrap your pan tightly in plastic wrap, then foil. Sprinkle with fresh basil just before serving.

Gnocchi Lasagna with Spinach, White Beans, and Sausage

This crowd-pleasing casserole is surprisingly light and fresh, thanks to the addition of spinach and white beans. Use plant-based sausage instead of pork sausage to make it vegetarian.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil, plus more for coating the baking dish

  • 1 pound

    uncooked sweet or hot Italian sausages (or 14 ounces Beyond Sausage)

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 4 cloves

    garlic

  • kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons

    tomato paste

  • 1 (28-ounce) can

    whole peeled tomatoes

  • 1 (14-ounce) can

    tomato sauce

  • 8 ounces

    fresh mozzarella cheese

  • 1/4 cup

    grated Parmesan cheese

  • 2 (15.5-ounce) cans

    white beans

  • 5 ounces

    baby spinach (about 5 packed cups)

  • 1 pound

    refrigerated, shelf stable, or frozen gnocchi (can sub gluten-free gnocchi or Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi)

  • Fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F. Lightly coat a lasagna pan (a 9x13-inch pan that’s at least 3 inches deep) or 3-quart baking dish with olive oil. Alternatively, you can use a 9x13-inch baking dish that's 2 inches deep, but it will be very full.

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Remove the casings from 1 pound uncooked Italian sausages, add to the pan, and cook, breaking up the meat into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon, until browned, beginning to crisp, and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, dice 1 medium yellow onion and mince 4 garlic cloves.

  3. Add the onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and several grinds black pepper to the pot and cook until the onion is softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons tomato paste and cook, stirring, until well-incorporated and darkened slightly in color, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes and their juices, breaking up the tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the pot, and 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

  4. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until thickened slightly and the flavors have developed, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, drain 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese if needed, then grate on the large holes of a box grater. Grate until you have 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Drain and rinse 2 cans of white beans.

  5. Remove the pot from the heat. Add 5 ounces baby spinach (5 packed cups) to the sauce one handful at a time, stirring as you go. Stir in the the white beans and 1 pound gnocchi. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Top with the mozzarella, followed by the Parmesan cheese.

  6. Bake until the casserole is bubbling and the cheese is browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Top with fresh basil leaves just before serving.

Recipe Notes

Using frozen spinach: You can substitute 1/2 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach for the fresh spinach. Before you start cooking, place the frozen spinach in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 1-minute bursts until defrosted. When cool enough to handle, squeeze all the excess moisture from the spinach. Stir into sauce in step 5 as instructed.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 days.

Make ahead: The marinara sauce can be made up to 5 days in advance and refrigerated. The day you're serving the casserole, stir in the spinach, white beans, and gnocchi, transfer to the casserole dish, top with cheese, and bake as directed. Alternatively, you can assemble the entire lasagna (sans cheese) one day in advance, then cover with foil and refrigerate. Top with the cheese before baking.