For best results, don’t treat shelf-stable gnocchi like dried pasta. Their sturdiness begs for more direct heat. Skip boiling, and fry them in a skillet instead for crisp outsides and chewy insides.
To pan-fry a package of shelf-stable gnocchi, heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Break up any stuck-together pieces, and add them to the skillet in an even layer (no need to boil first). Cover and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on one side, 2 to 4 minutes. Cook, stirring, until crisp on both sides, another 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown on both sides. Since they’re already cooked, you’re looking for deep color, which means deep flavor, on the outside.
Then, pair them with a sauce, and don’t be shy: Most shelf-stable gnocchi is fairly flavorless, some even mildly acidic, so go bold.
How to Use Your Gnocchi
Pair with a lemony cream sauce. Crisp the gnocchi as directed above, then reduce the heat and add 3/4 cup heavy cream and the zest of 1 lemon, and gently simmer until the cream has thickened.
Make a brown-butter tomato sauce: Cook the gnocchi as directed above, then transfer to a plate. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in the same skillet. Once it starts to brown, add 1 pint cherry tomatoes, and cook until they’ve burst. Stir in the gnocchi and some basil leaves. You could also top with mozzarella and broil until the cheese is melted and golden for “pizza gnocchi.”
Add a quick, rough pesto. Before you cook the gnocchi, coarsely chop about 1/4 cup toasted nuts (like pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts or hazelnuts) and a clove of garlic. Add 2 cups soft herbs (like parsley, basil or mint) and salt, and chop until the mixture resembles wet, coarse sand. Mix with 1 cup finely grated Parmesan and olive oil, to taste, then cook the gnocchi as directed above and stir in the pesto. (You could, of course, use a more traditional pesto, but the crunch of the nuts is a nice surprise.)
Riff on pierogies … Cook the gnocchi as directed, then transfer to a plate. In the same skillet, heat a little extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high, then add a few cups thinly sliced green cabbage and cook, stirring just once or twice, until charred and tender. Stir in the gnocchi, along with a good amount of butter (about 6 tablespoons per package) and dill to taste. Dollop sour cream and give just one stir. You want pockets of sour cream on your plate.
… Or on French fries: Nigella Lawson has called gnocchi “eight-minute roasted potatoes.” In her cookbook, “Nigella Kitchen” (Hyperion, 2010), she suggests salting crispy gnocchi and snacking on them with a beer. That’s a good idea — but so is showering them with finely grated Parmesan or Cheddar for frico-potato bites to dunk in tomato sauce, ketchup or mustard.