Toasted Gnocchi with Eggplant, White Beans and Plum Tomatoes

Today my husband leaves for his vacation with the guys. Last night was his last chance to revel in the comforts of home-cooking before "Yo soy vegetariano, no carne por favor" becomes his mantra for the next few days. I felt like I should cook something hearty and delicious for dinner.

After making curry last week I had half of an eggplant to use, which I found keeps quite well if you cover the cut side tightly with tinfoil. I also have a big basket of mother-in-law's plum tomatoes that are about to become too ripe. So I threw both together, along with some white beans for protein, to create some kind of hearty stew-like sauce to top off some gnocchi. 

You may prefer to boil gnocchi, but I tried browning them in the pan this time. They get kind of toasty and crisp on the outside and firm and chewy on the inside. The stewed eggplant topping was deliciously sweet, salty and spicy - which went well on top of the buttery gnocchi. Fresh herbs are key for getting that clean, bright flavor throughout the sauce without overpowering the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Toasted Gnocchi with Eggplant, White Beans and Plum Tomatoes
4 servings
45 minutes

2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large clove Garlic, crushed
1 C Purple Onion, diced
3 C Italian Eggplant, peeled, cubed and salted (about half a regular sized eggplant)
3 C (8 Small) Plum Tomatoes, cut into eighths
1 C Great Northern Beans (Half of a 15oz can) – rinsed and drained
1/2C Dry White Wine
1-1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
10 grinds Black Pepper
Crushed Red Pepper to taste (for flakes, start with ½ tsp and add)
1 T fresh Italian Oregano, finely chopped
1 T fresh Basil, finely chopped

1 - 17.6 oz pkg Potato Gnocchi (dry, vacuum sealed, such as Fornari Italia brand from Trader Joe's)
1 T Unsalted Butter
2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 T fresh Basil, chiffonade
Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese – grated or shaved for topping
Black Pepper / Crushed Red Pepper to taste

1.    Prepare all the sauce ingredients, starting with the eggplant. Peel it and cut 1/2” cubes. Sprinkle with a little salt and let it rest until needed. Peel and mince the garlic, sprinkle with a little kosher salt and use the side of a chef’s knife to mash the salt and garlic together. This brings out the oils in the garlic.

2.    Place 2T oil, ½ tsp red pepper, and garlic in a deep skillet. Set heat to medium and cook for about 3-5 minutes, stirring. It should sizzle just a little bit, quietly. Keep the heat low enough so that the garlic does not brown.

3.    Add onions to the pan and continue to cook and stir over medium heat for another 5 minutes, again careful not to brown it.

4.    Add eggplant to the pan, cooking 5 minutes until it starts to soften. Mix in the tomatoes, beans and wine. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.

5.    Prepare the gnocchi. Heat butter and oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the gnocchi and cook and stir until toasted on all sides. This takes about 5-8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

6.    To season the sauce, sitr in the salt, black pepper, oregano and basil and cook another 5 minutes. Taste and add more red pepper or salt if needed. Make sure to cook the sauce until the flavor of the wine disappears. If it is too thin, or tastes at all bitter, cook a little longer.

7.    Take a quarter of the gnocchi for each serving, and pile on a generous amount of the chunky sauce. Top with the shredded basil and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
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