Comfort Food

Comfort foods can come in many forms: favorite recipes from childhood, treats remembered for special occasions or just starch-, fat- or sugar-laden dishes that offer a chemical reaction we associate with happiness as well as satiety. Usually considered a guilty pleasure or indulgence, I have a hard time seeing all comfort food as all bad and, I think, as long as it’s not an everyday occurrence or in massive quantities, a little comfort can go a long way.

One of the reasons this came to mind (aside from the impending holidays and increasingly cooler weather, both of which set my taste buds craving those sorts of foods) is the birthday meal I prepared for a friend last winter and is mentioned in this week’s comics. It’s pretty simple to prepare and not particularly unhealthy, so I thought I’d share.

Gnocchi Casserole with Pesto, Sausage and Broccoli

1 lb Gnocchi
Salted water
1 lb Turkey sausage, sliced
Olive oil
1 lb Broccoli, steamed
1/2 c Prepared pesto
Non-stick spray
1/2 c Parmesan cheese, shredded

Boil gnocchi in enough salted water to cover until tender. Simultaneously, saute sliced sausage in a bit of olive oil until the edges crisp. Drain pasta and combine with sausage and broccoli. Whisk together the pesto and enough olive oil to thin it out enough to lightly coat all of the other ingredients.

Prepare a 9×12 baking dish with non-stick spray (I prefer the olive oil variety, but any will do). Toss the thinned pesto with the gnocchi, sausage and broccoli and pour all into the prepared dish. Top with cheese and place in a 350-degree for 15-20 minutes.

Now, of course, this can be done up til the baking and put in the fridge until later. Just up the baking time to 30 minutes or more, or as long as it takes to bring everything up to a nice and toasty 165 degrees. Cover with foil if it seems to be drying out or browning a little too much. You can also make your own gnocchi if you’re so moved, but I remember getting the gnocchi and pesto at World Market (CostPlus in some areas) and both being very high quality.

How much you thin the pesto is up to personal preference–I tend to think a little goes a long way–and how thick the pesto is to begin with. Chances are you’ll have pesto left over. To preserve the rest of the pesto until the next use, add a layer of olive oil to the jar and store in the fridge. This will prevent the pesto from drying out while in cold storage.