Baked gnocchi with meatballs, tomato and mozzarella

If gnocchi by themselves constitute a food hug, then this is closer to a smothering embrace.

It’s also an answer to both questions and crisis, from ‘what will we eat for dinner?’, through to ‘do you think I trade this spluttering body in for the 2013 model?’

It’s hard to pinpoint anything more comforting than the smell of roasting tomatoes and mozzarella sneaking out from behind an oven door. To me there are also few things more pleasing than the meditation of shifting pillows of gnocchi, tomatoes and baby-sized meatballs from plate, to fork, to teeth, until you come up empty.

There’s a joy that tags along both in making and eating this. It even hangs about while you’re doing the washing up.

This is a meal that can be turned around quickly, with good quality pork sausages skinned and portioned standing in for the meatballs, store bought gnocchi, some cherry tomatoes and a jar of pasta sauce. Or it’s one that you can take your time with- making your own gnocchi (perhaps out of white beans), fixing meatballs and pottering about with roasted cherry tomatoes.

This is the sort of supper that makes me want to batten down the hatches, open a bottle of good red wine and press play on music with lyrics I’ve committed to memory.  At the moment that’s Mike Rosenberg aka Passenger.  That’s a man who does lyrics well.

Yet when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic and cheesy, the only soundtrack that will suffice is from  ‘The Big Chill’. It’s ‘A whiter shade of pale’  while I’m breaking apart orbs of mozzarella, all the way through to ‘Aint too proud to beg‘ while soaking the shadows of baked tomatoes out of corningware.

In essence, this is the kind of dish that makes you feel fine about dancing in your kitchen all on your own-  but it’s even better when it’s made with love, for friends.

Baked gnocchi with meatballs, tomato and mozzarella

Serves 2 hungry ones, but doubles and triples easily for a crowd.


1 snug fitting oven proof dish- mine is corningware, the size of an A4 piece of paper.


200 grams of cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt
200 grams of minced beef or pork
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
2 tbsp tomato paste
Pinch of sugar
450 grams of gnocchi (either store bought potato gnocchi – you don’t need to boil it, or the white bean gnocchi from  here)
300 grams of buffalo mozzarella, drained and roughly torn
Fresh basil or oregano leaves to garnish

Here’s how we roll

1) Preheat oven to 150C/300F. Take a medium sized lasagne or baking dish. Add 300 grams of cherry tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 20 minutes, until the tomatoes have softened and wrinkled.

2) While the tomatoes are roasting make the meatballs. Combine the 300 grams of quality ground beef with a teaspoon of dried oregano, a pinch of salt, a good grinding of black pepper and a tablespoon of very cold water. Combine and make meatballs the same size as the cherry tomatoes. Add the meatballs in with the tomatoes and roast for another 20 minutes.

3) When the tomatoes are roasted, bloated and softened from the oven  puncture half with a fork. Add two tablespoons of tomato paste and a pinch of sugar to the dish. Nestle the gnocchi in amongst the meatballs and the tomatoes. You want to make sure that there is enough liquidity  from the busted tomatoes to come at least half way up the sides of the gnocchi. If not, add another tablespoon of tomato paste muddled with a little water.

4) Top with two balls of torn mozzarella (300g in total) and bake for 30 minutes- until the cheese has melted and browned and the gnocchi are cooked through.

5)  Serve with some torn green herbs scattered over the top (fresh oregano or basil are lovely). Eat from a bowl, on the couch, with a green salad on the side and a large glass of red wine.

  1. Nice recipe! Kind of an easy lasagna, but more interesting. And a Procol Harum song (Winter Shade of Pale)!!! I haven’t thought of them – or that song – in years. But now I can’t get it out of my head! Fun post – thanks.

  2. How strange! We both wrote meatball recipes on the same day!
    I love this idea. Gnocchi is one of my other comfort foods and I wouldn’t have thought to do a casserole like this. This looks really really delicious!

  3. I never thought to make gnocchi this way and it is brilliant! Sometimes the most beautiful dishes are bubbling with tomato sauce and mozzarella.

  4. It looks great. We love it.

  5. Oh my goodness I did not think anything could make gnocchi better but clearly smothering it in cheese and baking it does!

  6. Sweet baby Jesus this looks goooood! Anything with bubbling mozzarella (and gnocchi!) gets me every time!

  7. Oh my goodness. Gnocchi is my go-to LOOKIT WHAT I CAN DOOO food. I cannot believe I’ve never thought of making a bake/casserole type thing out of them! This looks DIVINE. Well done!!

  8. Lorraine Not quite Nigella on 24 May 2012

    This definitely a big ol hug!!! 😛 it’s definitely a winter warming dish 🙂

  9. Oh yes. I definitely need to eat more gnocchi…

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