Recipe: A Gnocchi for Nicole

 I love to celebrate an entire day preparing food. Some days I'm an old woman rocking on a porch, knitting dinner. I can be the pitcher of tea steeping in the sun for hours. Other times I'm an octopus -- reaching, chopping, grabbing, opening, rushing and plating in a blur.

When time is tight, I reach for prepared and fresh ingredients. In under an hour my Gnocchi with Cherry Tomatoes is ready to shake onto your plate -- with one hand tied behind your back.
Gather round:
One package pre-made Gnocchi*
One container cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup Pesto
1-2 Bay Leaf
1 tbsp Oregano
1 tbsp Basil
Chili flakes
Salt and pepper
Optional: 1 lb Bay scallops, shrimp, calamari

Rattle these:
Deep skillet
Pasta pot
Slotted spoon
Cheese grater

Serves 6

1. Heat a tablespoon of EVOO in a deep skillet.

I often use my grandmother's old skillet to cook. She prepared the first dishes with which I fell in love.

My grandfather was in charge of dishes, but he'd rather waltz than wash up. I'm counting on some leftover flavor embedded in the metal.

2. Brown onions.

Use a frozen package of pearl onions, or chop one whole yellow onion into crescents.

I prefer pearl onions for this recipe; I'm matching round shapes: Gnocchi, tomatoes, onions... There's a comfort in uniformity. I learned that in the Marine Corps when they shaved our bushy heads. Soon we were a bunch of identical, round, green grapes.

Tip: If you're adding chili flakes, do it now. The heat will release more flavor. Like Victoria Secret's management warned my grandfather to get away from the mannequins, step back. Intense scents arise from toasting chilies.

3. Add tomatoes, pesto, oregano, bay leaf, basil, S and P.

Tomatoes have health benefits. Don't pussyfoot around. There's no time to sprinkle the herbs like old people drive. The basil and oregano are savory Marines; they adapt and conquer this dish in one strong stir.

Cook the tomatoes 10-15 minutes. See that glass of chardonnay in your hand? Hold it up, admire the color and remember the charming winery you toured. Tilt the glass and pour about 1/2 cup in the skillet, along with any dreams you have of ever visiting that winery again. You're too busy. 

Water is fine too. Kalamata olives and capers have a welcome, optional place in this dish. If you want to use yellow tomatoes -- do it. They aren't communist propaganda, in spite of what your grandparent's generation preached. 

4. Boil the gnocchi.

Once the water in the pasta pot is at rolling boil, slide the gnocchi in.

As soon as a few dumplings start popping up to the surface, boil them all for three more minutes. This is hard to mess up. I had a drill instructor at Parris Island who once gave us the wrong command. He marched our entire platoon into a wall. The gnocchi is foolproof.

The pot I use to boil the pasta was also my grandmother's. I bring it out to dance on the stove whenever I can; my grandfather danced me around as I stood on his shoes. I'm sure it was cute when I was three, but at forty....

5.  Warning: Up to now, no animals have been harmed in the making of this meal.

Return your attention to the tomato mixture. This recipe can be totally vegetarian unless a rabbit or grocery store clerk licked your onions. (Note to self, always wash produce). Want to hashtag PETA in your dinner instagram? Skip this step and proceed directly to Number 6.

If you desire the tender young flesh of succulent sea creatures: spank the seafood dry with a paper towel, lightly toss them with salt and pepper and hurl the virgins into the hot, molten volcano (aka the tomato/onion/pesto mix).

This seafood is tiny, and only needs about three to four minutes to cook.

6. Add 1-2 ladles of pasta water to the skillet. Then strain the gnocchi.

The gnocchi shook off some starch into the cooking process. The water is hanging onto the starch like a family grudge. Ladle a cup or so in the tomato sauce, in a few minutes it will thicken into a lovely sauce.

7. Combine the gnocchi into the skillet of tomatoes.

Softly stir to coat; the tomatoes are fragile, the gnocchi tender.

My grandmother often applied hand lotion. Under the guise of having taken too much, she rubbed our hands together, speaking only with her sparkling eyes to tell me that I was cared for.

8. Grate some Parmesan.

I sprinkle the cheese on liberally like I am throwing beads to the crowds while riding on a float in the Bacchus Mardi Gras parade. To help you imagine that, here's me riding a float in the Bacchus Mardi Gras parade.

Use salt sparingly during the cooking steps -- the Parmesan will make the final seasoning correction.

9. Plate and enjoy.

The textures, as well as the shapes of this dish blend together well. The tomatoes are cooked; but many might stay intact. The warm, tart tomato juice squirts against your cheek as you bite. Your grandmother was right, chew with your mouth closed. The gnocchi are soft and plump, taking you back to your Sunday School days. Week after week that nice old lady leaned over to kiss you and you didn't mind because you peeked down her blouse.

In the Marines we sang Every meal's a holiday, every meal's a feast -- yet neither was true. I learned gratitude is found on a plate, in a hot shower, or in a letter from home. Did you know grandmothers have figured out how to mail a hug? I learned in boot camp and share in my book, the importance of letters from home. Tis recipe is dedicated to Nicole, my editor on that book, The Pink Marine.  

*Of course the gnocchi can be homemade. Simply roust your granny from her eternal rest and ask her to stay out of the casino so she can knead you some gnocchi from scratch.

Celebrate every day.


  1. Love this, I am making this for Easter! This looks so fresh, just perfect for spring. We won't be doing the traditional ham this year, we decided to go sort of free for all, so this works for my contribution! And I get to spank seafood! Win, win!!

  2. Step 4 - Sure it was cute at 3 but at 40? 40 what? Oops! I almost spilled the beans in the gnocchi, huh?

  3. Hi Greg –

    I’m working with a start-up for food bloggers in Southern California called Tabelog ( They’re a subsidiary of the largest company in Japan (similar to Yelp here in the US).

    We’re bringing their annual restaurant awards to the US that are judged solely by a panel of local food bloggers (all online). The winning restaurants get a framed 2014 award and the food bloggers get an “official judge” icon/etc and related PR for their blog. We’re looking for bloggers from the Southern California area to invite as an official judge. Is this something that you would be interested in?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Brock - thanks for contacting me. I'd love to participate. Email me and let's get started! Best, Greg

  4. Greg, what's an email for you; can't find on the site. Mine is . Have a couple places would like you to try.


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