Kitchn Love Letters

The $3 Pantry Staple I Keep on Hand for Easy Dinners When I Don’t Know What Else to Make

published Jun 27, 2022
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Home Edit inspired pantry makeover

Before I get too deep into this post, I have to stop and give credit where credit is due. Please join me in giving a big round of applause for Sheela Prakash, Kitchn’s Senior Contributing Food Editor. Not only is she a dear friend and a great recipe developer, but she’s also the person responsible for introducing me to the wonder that is shelf-stable potato gnocchi. Not just any shelf-stable potato gnocchi, either — specifically, the stuff from De Cecco.

I’d seen it in the grocery store plenty of times — sitting next to the brand’s various boxes of dried pasta. I just never thought to buy it. But then, Sheela started talking about how you don’t necessarily have to boil these little potato puffs. “Toss them directly from the package onto a sheet pan with a slew of veggies, roast them for 20 minutes, scoop into bowls, and dig in,” she said. I was intrigued. And she went on: “They get crispy and browned on the outside — almost like roasted potatoes — while remaining chewy and tender on the inside.” That sounded amazing! Why had I not thought to do this before?

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

I made my very first sheet pan gnocchi dinner back in March 2020, when everyone was trying to limit their trips to the grocery store. I started with this mixed mushroom sheet pan gnocchi (adding some crumbled-up sausage and store-bought pesto) and must have gone on to tell at least a dozen different friends and family members about my revelation. Sheela was right! (As always!) The outside of the gnocchi does get crispy and browned, and the inside stays chewy and tender. I couldn’t stop talking about it.

On my next trip, I bought a few more packages (they’re less than $3 each at my store but a little pricier online!) and De Cecco’s Potato Gnocchi has been a pantry staple ever since. I keep at least one package on hand at all times and I know that my backstock means I can always make something for dinner — even when I have no real plan. And it won’t even be that hard: Just dump, mix, bake, eat. It’s that simple.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

It’s not all mushrooms and sausage, either. Turns out, sheet pan gnocchi make for a great base for, well, lots of things! It’s summer now, which means I’m regularly tossing it with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls to make this caprese sheet pan gnocchi. Or I’m thawing a bunch of shrimp from the freezer to make this garlicky shrimp sheet pan gnocchi. Or I’m mixing it with whatever veggies I have on hand (the pesto is a nice add here, too).

Credit: Grace Elkus

When the weather starts to cool, I’ll be making my gnocchi in a skillet. That’s right — you can also make it in a skillet! (It does take a little more effort compared to sheet pan gnocchi, but the same thing happens: The outsides get brown and crispy while the insides stays soft.) This New York Times recipe for gnocchi with Brussels sprouts is perhaps the best new dish I’ve made in the last three years. And this French onion skillet gnocchi (from Sheela, of course!) comes in at a close second.

As long as I have one pack of this gnocchi in my pantry, I know that I can pull together some sort of interesting dinner using whatever I happen to have on hand. And you can, too — as long as you cheers to Sheela before you start eating!

What do you make when you have no real plan?