Gnocchi Skillet with Marinated Duck Meatballs & Tomatoes

Serves 4


  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • * 20 Marinated Duck Meatballs
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 4 ounces of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 to 2 ounces fresh basil, julienned (1/2 to 1 cup loosely packed)

*Wild Duck Meatballs

For all you non-hunters, you can easily substitute domestic duck or goose, or just make these meatballs the traditional way—with a combination of beef and pork marinated with wine or beer. If you do this, omit the pork fat, as it will already be mixed into the pre-ground meats.

Makes between 18 and 22 large meatballs


  • 2 ½ pounds duck meat, skinned (marinated overnight in Red Dry wine)
  • 1 pound pork fat
  • 2⁄3 cup milk
  • 2 to 3 slices of good but stale bread, crusts removed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 ½ cups bread crumbs


  1. Marinate skinless/boneless duck meat in dry red wine (cabernet or shiraz) for at least 24 hours.
  2. After marinating remove from marination and chill the duck meat and pork fat until it is almost freezing by sticking it in the freezer for an hour.
  3. Cut both the meat and fat into half-inch chunks.
  4. Grind through your fine die in a meat grinder. If you do not have a meat grinder, you can use a food processor, set on pulse. Don’t crowd the processor and chop the meat in pulses until you get something that looks like ground meat—it will not be as good as with a grinder, but it is easier than hand-mincing everything, which is also an option.
  5. Put the meat in the fridge.
  6. Pour the milk into a pot and set it on low heat.
  7. Cut the crusts off the stale bread and break it into pieces. Add it to the pot. It will begin to absorb the milk. When it does, turn off the heat and mash everything into a paste. Let it cool to room temperature.
  8. In the meat bowl, add the salt and spices and herbs, as well as the cheese. Crack the eggs into the bowl, then pour the bread-milk mixture in.
  9. With clean hands, gently mix everything together. Do not knead it like bread, and do not squeeze things together. Just gently work the mixture—think cake, not bread.
  10. When it is mostly combined—you need not get everything perfect—grab a palm-full and roll it into a ball with your palms, not your fingers. You want meatballs about one to one and a half inches across.
  11. Gently roll the meatballs in the bread crumbs. You may need to re-shape them before putting them onto a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.
  12. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the gnocchi for 2 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.
  13. Heat a 10-inch or larger cast iron skillet over medium heat with a 1/4 inch of olive oil. Add the meatballs and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Turn the meatballs over and brown for for 2 to 3 minutes, when light brown push into a pile at the edge of the skillet and turn the heat up to high.
  14. When the skillet is quite hot, add the tomatoes, skin down, crowding them in if necessary. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until they are blistered, then stir in with the meatballs. Cook for 2 more minutes, until both tomatoes and meatballs are slightly more browned. Stir in gnocchi and cook just until all is combined, but the tomatoes have not broken down into sauce.
  15. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir Parmesan and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

  • Any cooked meatball or sausage is good in this dish, although I do prefer one with a little extra flavor added, like red peppers or garlic.
  • I specify a cast iron skillet because I think it gives the best color and sear to the tomatoes and sausage. However, any deep skillet or sauté pan should work as well, provided it doesn’t have a nonstick coating, which will interfere with browning.

Remaining Meatballs can be refrigerated for a week, or frozen for several months.