“What’s gnocchi?” my 7-year-old asks with a hint of a grimace on her face. She is skeptical of new foods I put on her plate, and I don’t blame her. The number of things I’ve fed her that were too spicy, bitter, slimy or otherwise distasteful is much greater than the sum of my kitchen triumphs.

“It’s kind of like pasta, but made out of potatoes. You’ll like it!”

That second part makes her roll her eyes knowingly. My 9-year-old perks up at the sound of the word ‘potato,’ though. Evidently she’s figured out that it is difficult to ruin the perfection of a potato.

They know that at our house, dessert comes to those who eat their dinners, so they square their shoulders to face this newest kitchen adventure. Leaving aside the questionable wisdom of bribing my children into eating their dinner, it is blissful to see everyone take those first few bites and nod in approval. Over the next few minutes, one kid shares a story about an epic game of tag at recess, my husband and I chat about our workdays, and another kid tells a very long joke that is only funny to her. And still, no one complains about the food. One child even takes seconds!

This is a big victory, but I only celebrate in the privacy of my own brain. I do not want anyone to remember that a month before they said that “asparagus tastes like grass,” and the previous Saturday parmesan tasted too “cheesy” – whatever that means. This gnocchi dinner seems to lie at the elusive intersection of everything my family needs in a recipe: filling, quick, veggie-packed and a true crowd-pleaser. It also manages to get my kids to enjoy eating some new (or formerly rejected) flavors.

The thing that will land it in our regular rotation, though, is its adaptability. After my older daughter made muffins recently, I opened the freezer to find a three-pound bag of blueberries with twelve berries left in the bottom. The recipe said two cups, and she used exactly two cups. She gets a gold star for following instructions, but that isn’t how I want to cook. My perfect recipe is a framework that can be modified easily based on what’s available from the garden, the produce section, or the depths of the fridge.


This recipe starts with gnocchi, which have the perfect balance of lightness and chew for my tastes. They are crisped up a little in the oven and combined with tender spring vegetables that lend sweetness and don’t overpower. Butter and cheese provide richness, while lemon and herbs give acidity and freshness. The combination of flavors and textures makes it incredibly satisfying to eat, regardless of what you get in each forkful. I’ve used this same framework with fresh pasta as the base, with crème frâiche as the source of richness, and with basil, tarragon or even mint as the herb. Toasted pine nuts or walnuts can be tossed in for crunch. And the amounts of veggies should really read, “whatever you have on hand.” It’s great for lunch the next day, so throw all those veggies in and enjoy.

Sheet-pan Gnocchi with Spring Veggies. Courtesy of Andrea Lauerman

Sheet-pan Gnocchi with Spring Veggies

Adapted for kid-friendliness from New York Times Cooking.

Yield: 2 adult and 2 kiddo servings

1 (12-ounce) package gnocchi
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut into thirds
1 shallot, trimmed and sliced lengthwise ¼-inch thick
1 cup frozen peas, thawed (or fresh peas)
1 lemon, scrubbed, for zest
½ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup sliced fresh chives or parsley (optional)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss gnocchi with 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon butter and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

On another rimmed baking sheet, toss asparagus and shallots with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and a few generous grinds of pepper.

Put both pans in the oven, with the gnocchi on the bottom rack and the vegetables above. Stir the gnocchi and vegetables after 5 minutes to distribute the butter. Stir the vegetables once or twice more, but leave the gnocchi undisturbed. Roast until vegetables are golden and getting crispy on the edges, about 15 minutes total, and the gnocchi are golden brown on one side, 20 to 25 minutes total. Stir the peas into the vegetables in the last 5 minutes of cooking.


Combine the gnocchi and vegetables on 1 tray, then grate the lemon zest over the top. Sprinkle the gnocchi with half the Parmesan and chives, if using, saving some for serving. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Toss to combine, and transfer to a serving bowl or platter. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and chives, and serve immediately.

Courtesy of Andrea Lauerman

MEET THE COOK, Andrea Lauerman

My favorite cooking tool is a set of wood-handled Henckels steak knives. These were given to me as a gift 20 years ago, and, as an almost-vegetarian, I had no idea what to do with them. They sat sealed in the drawer for a decade, making several moves with my husband and me in our not-yet-settled days. (These days, we’ve made a home in Cumberland.) Eventually, I needed something to pry open a stuck wine cork and I opened the knives at last. As soon as they were set free, they were essential. They are great for slicing a bell pepper and ideal for taking corn off the cob. Most of all, they are wonderful for teaching a young child to cook – comfortable for tiny fingers, good and sharp, and slightly serrated so those little hands don’t squish the tomatoes they just picked in the garden!

I suppose my tool description tells you most of what you need to know about my cooking. I cook for my husband and two daughters (ages 7 and 9). Involving my daughters in gardening, cooking and baking is mostly a delight, and sometimes a challenge. I am always trying to find recipes that are nourishing, (mostly) plant-based, quick enough to make in the hustle of work and family life and make good leftovers. Additionally, I want things that the kids will be happy to eat, but that push them out of their dietary comfort zone. I think of such recipes as the unicorns of family cuisine.

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