Alisa Fleming ~ As much as I love cooking from scratch, I’m certainly not immune to a little bit of convenience, particularly at lunch time. Both my husband and I work from home, which means I don’t have to pack a lunch. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, we have a whole kitchen full of food at our disposal, but on the other hand, the lack of forced planning means we are often ill-prepared for lunch. After all, most food still needs to be sliced, diced, cooked, and served. More often than not, noon sneaks up on us as we’re working away, and I’ve got nothing.
My go-to meal for a fast and healthy lunch has become the notorious big salad, but this week I wanted something a little different, and so did my husband. So I turned to two of my favorite meal starters, jarred pasta sauce and gnocchi. Yes, homemade is still best, but good brands of pasta sauce like Barilla cut out a ton of work when our stomachs declare that time is of the essence, and gnocchi is speedy, taking just 3 minutes to cook! (see my notes below on dairy-free gnocchi)
For a creamy twist and some added nutrients, I amped up the marinara with dairy-free cream, tossed in a few vegetables, and went seasonal with some fresh basil. Even my husband’s finicky stomach was satisfied after this quick vegetarian meal …
Gnocchi in a Tomato Basil Cream Sauce
This recipe is Dairy-Free, Nut-Free, Soy-Free, optionally Vegan, optionally Egg-Free, and optionally Gluten-Free. Note that the brand of Marinara that I used (Barilla) is free from the top eight allergens (by ingredients), but some brands use soybean oil (not soy-free), and some may contain dairy (often cheese).
Using coconut cream may sound like an odd flavor pairing, but the strong and acidic nature of the marinara dominates the scene. Any coconut flavor that may exist in the cream goes unnoticed, and actually blends into the slightly sweet tomato sauce nicely.
Heat the oil in a large skillet (I use non-stick) over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic and sauté, for about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and sauté, for 2 minutes more. Stir in the marinara and coconut cream. Bring the heat up to medium for just a minute to get the sauce bubbling slightly, reduce it to low, and allow the sauce to simmer while you make the gnocchi.
Make the gnocchi according to the package directions. Once the water is boiling, this step only takes about 3 minutes as gnocchi cooks very quickly. Divide the gnocchi between 4 to 6 bowls.
Add salt and pepper to your sauce to taste. Turn off the heat, and stir in the basil. Pour the sauce equally over the bowls of gnocchi, and if desired, garnish with a few ribbons of basil.
Zucchini Option: Halve and slice 1 to 2 zucchini into ¼-inch half circles. Increase the oil used to 1-1/2 Tablespoons and add the zucchini slices with the mushrooms.
Gluten-Free Option: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta in place of the gnocchi, or try a homemade gluten-free gnocchi recipe.
* Coconut cream is simply the cream skimmed off the top of a can of regular / full fat coconut milk. Make sure not to shake the can before opening. The cream and watery liquid separate beautifully with good quality coconut milk (I use 365 organic from Whole Foods (also the cheapest I’ve found) or Thai Kitchen). I can usually get 1/2 to 3/4 cup of very thick coconut cream per can. I use the remaining cream and coconut water in recipes, like I would light coconut milk. If the coconut cream doesn't separate nicely, just use 1/2 cup of thick (regular / full fat) coconut milk.
** Note that many brands of gnocchi do contain dairy in some form, but dairy-free versions definitely exist. For this recipe I use the Whole Wheat Gnocchi from Rocconto, which is sold at Trader Joe’s. Many brands of gnocchi do contain egg, so for an egg-free and dairy-free version, try this vegan gnocchi recipe.
Makes 4 to 6 Servings
Article, Photos, and Recipe by Alisa Fleming, founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a freelance writer for several publications, with an emphasis on creating recipes for various types of special diets.