Creamy Pesto Gnocchi
This Creamy Pesto Gnocchi is a comforting, family-friendly vegetarian meal or side dish that takes just 20 minutes from start to finish. Cook the gnocchi straight in the sauce for a true one pan wonder you’ll enjoy time and again.
Another one pan, ultra-fast wonder coming your way, and bonus: it’s semi-elegant comfort food. Tender gnocchi are always cozy, yes, but a simple yet elevated cream sauce with a dash of lemon juice and an optional glug of white wine makes this feel like you tried. Correction: you didn’t just try, you won dinner tonight.
This recipe is:
- Truly one pan. The gnocchi cook right in the sauce, no boiling or draining needed.
- Minimal prep. Mince garlic, grate Parmesan, juice a lemon. No other chopping.
- Quick-cooking. Even in a simmering sauce, gnocchi cook in well under 10 minutes.
- Irresistible. Whether it’s for the soft gnocchi pillows or the rich cream sauce, you can be sure you’ll spot people sneaking “one more bite.”
Pesto is the Best-o
So lame, yes, but hey – it’s not wrong! A fresh, nutty basil pesto is a pantry essential for whipping up flavorful meals on a dime. And yes, you can just use it as a dip, spread over grilled chicken, or toss into some pasta salad, but it’s also the perfect shortcut and base for a cream sauce like this one.
This pesto gnocchi recipe is inspired by our beloved copycat pesto cavatappi, which relies on a light and luscious cream sauce. We borrow some technique from this Tuscan tortellini, which cooks filled pasta directly in a sauce for the sake of beautiful, beautiful simplicity. I know I am always glad for even one less pot to wash at the end of the day.
Ingredients & Common Substitutions
Here is a visual overview of the ingredients you’ll need for this recipe. Scroll down to the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post for quantities!
A few notes and shopping tips:
- Gnocchi: We’re using the dried, shelf-stable gnocchi here, which are typically found with the dried pasta in a central aisle. Fresh gnocchi will cook much more quickly, which sounds terrific, but may or may not allow sufficient time for the sauce to thicken to your liking.
- Cream: Yes, you can substitute half and half here.
- Pesto: DeLallo is my favorite store-bought brand, but nothing beats homemade if you can swing it!
- Broth or white wine: Chicken broth, veggie broth, or a dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, all work in this recipe.
- Parmesan: Freshly-grated is wonderful, but pre-grated works, too, as long as it’s a quality brand and grated into very fine particles, because you’ll want it to melt partially into the sauce.
How To Make a Good Gnocchi with Pesto
Sure, you could just dump a bunch of pesto over cooked gnocchi and call it a day, but why stop there, when with just a couple extra minutes of work, you can enjoy the same pillowy potato gnocchi in a more subtle, smooth cream sauce that still has all the vibrant benefits of pesto. This feels a lot more fancy, but is actually barely more work.
Pro Tip: For best results, use a skillet with a well-fitting lid! Having a good lidded sauté pan is an excellent investment, and they come in a variety of price points – low, medium, high.
- Make cream sauce. A simple sauté of garlic gets things started, then the pesto, cream, and wine or broth rounds it out.
- Cook gnocchi. Start checking for doneness after 4 minutes of covered simmer
- Finish it off. Parmesan, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Can I add meat or veggies?
Yes! Crumble in Italian sausage at the beginning, or stir in some pre-cooked shredded chicken or grilled shrimp at the end, for some added protein. You can also sauté mushrooms, bell peppers, cherry or sun-dried tomatoes alongside the garlic, or add a cup of frozen peas at the end.
Is gnocchi a main dish or a side?
The beauty of gnocchi is it can be either!
Now, if you were dining in Italy, traditional menus consider gnocchi to be a “primo piatto” – literally a “first dish” – to be enjoyed after an appetizer but before a “secondo piatto” of fish or meat. Gnocchi may also be offered as a “contorno” – side dish – alongside the protein.
This said, we’re not all about following such rules strictly, even if it can be fun to know what they are! When it comes to getting a simple, tasty dinner on the table for your family, I say serve this right up as a main, and mix in a protein or veggie as suits your taste. But if you’re looking to wow dinner guests, serve this up as a “primo piatto” and bask in the glow.
Storage & Reheating
Store any leftovers in airtight containers in the refrigerator for at least 3 days. The gnocchi will keep well and can be easily reheated over medium heat on the stovetop — add a splash of water or broth to keep it from sticking — or in a quick burst of the microwave.
More Gnocchi Recipes
Can’t get enough of those tender little bites? Me neither! For a simple variation, try this gnocchi with pesto, mushrooms, and charred cherry tomatoes. Love a velvety sauce? Tuscan gnocchi or gnocchi with vodka sauce can’t be beat. And if you’re craving a comforting soup, this crockpot creamy chicken gnocchi soup is a ringer.
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Creamy Pesto Gnocchi
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup chicken broth, veggie broth, or dry white wine
- 1/3 cup basil pesto
- 1 pound potato gnocchi uncooked
- 1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- kosher salt and black pepper
- fresh basil optional garnish
- Warm olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. (Use a skillet with a lid.) Add garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds, just until fragrant, then stir in the cream, broth, and pesto.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, then stir in the gnocchi. Cover the skillet and cook for 4 minutes, untouched.
- Uncover the pan, stir well, and test a gnocchi. Continue to cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the gnocchi is tender and the sauce slightly thickened.
- When the gnocchi is tender, stir in the Parmesan and lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice to taste. (I usually start with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 8-10 cranks of black pepper, but this can vary to taste and depending on how salty your pesto is.)
- Garnish with fresh basil, more Parmesan, and lemon zest, if desired, and serve.