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Parisian Gnocchi: The many delights of pâte à choux, part 2

Welcome to the world of gnocchi perfection. I’m talking about floating ethereal clouds, dreamy pillows bursting with flavor and texture. These gnocchi take on a variety of preparations like a pro, and if that wasn’t enough, are a snap to make. And did I mention these little darlings also have a French accent? What’s not to love?

These French dumplings are called Parisian Gnocchi. I typed the word “Parisian” into the title of this post many times and then repeatedly deleted it, in fear it would scare some people off. Then I finally added it back in because I couldn’t give in to such devices. The word Parisian sounds elegant and let’s face it, kind of fancy. The closer we get to the roots of a recipe, the more exotic it sounds and sometimes that can be off-putting when we have, oh you know, just a little thing called LIFE going on. Some people might be reading this and thinking, “Big deal. I’m not scared of a little gnocchi! ” But I also think that we have been bombarded by LOTS of advertising whispering to us over and over that cooking from scratch is too hard for our busy schedules. So to that I say Hogwash, and here’s a perfect example to prove it.

In France gnocchi is made with pâte à choux dough while In Italy it is usually made with potatoes. Both versions are great but I tend to lean towards the French version more often because the gnocchi are not only perfectly light and airy, but they are also easy and super fun to make.

There are many ways to serve Parisian gnocchi. One of my favorite preparations is to crisp them up in a pan with a little brown butter, throw some arugula in at the last minute, spoon into bowls and grate some fresh parmesan over the top. You could also transfer the cooked gnocchi to a baking dish and sprinkle cheese over the top and bake until golden brown, or you can simply toss them in your favorite sauce and call it a day. 


Ingredients

1 c. water
1 stick of unsalted butter (4 oz)
1 c. AP flour
4 eggs
pinch of salt
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Method

  1. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper drizzled with a bit of olive oil.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a medium boil (just like you are cooking pasta)
  3. In a medium saucepan bring water, butter, and salt to a boil over medium heat.
  4. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until dough comes away from the sides of the pan, about 30 seconds.
  5. Take the pan off of heat and add eggs one at a time, stirring until each egg is completely incorporated into the dough before adding the next one. This is when you will notice the dough will appear to “break”. Just keep stirring and before you know it, all will be well again and you will be ready to add the next egg.
  6. Stir in cheese.
  7. Use a spatula to transfer the dough to a piping bag and let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. (you can even use a freezer bag or even just use a spoon for larger, more rustic gnocchi)
  8. Once the dough is rested and the water is boiling, snip off the tip of your pastry bag (You are looking for about a ½” tip or opening) and squeeze gnocchi into the water using a clean pair of kitchen sheers or a sharp knife. If there are two of you in the kitchen it is super nice to have one person squeeze and one person snip. Don’t feel pressure to go fast right away. Squeeze and cut for about a minute and then let those gnocchi cook. Find gnocchi sticking to your sheers or knife? dip them in the pot of water to keep things cutting smoothly.
  9. When they float to the top, let them cook about a minute longer and then skim them out of the water with a perforated skimming ladle or spider. Spoon the cooked gnocchi onto your sheet pan and repeat this process with the remaining dough.
  10. At this point you can freeze the gnocchi on the sheet pan and then transfer to a plastic freezer bag for later use, or you can continue to serve now.

Component in Action

  • you can incorporate a variety of different flavors into the dough itself before putting into the piping bag. Think fresh herbs, spices, a spoon of dijon mustard, a variety of semi hard or hard cheeses, etc.
  • If it’s the middle of summer and you know you want to serve the gnocchi with a fresh tomato sauce, add some freshly chopped basil to the dough.
  • serve with a creamy alfredo sauce for a decadent treat
  • serve along side seared scallops
  • in the fall try with brown butter, sage and butternut squash

Gougères: The many delights of pâte à choux, part 1

There are plenty of complex and difficult pastry recipes and techniques out there. Lucky for us, pâte à choux dough isn’t one of them.  The first time I made this dough was in culinary school. I was a nervous cook back then (2003), having only cooked at home from the pages of magazines and from tv shows when I managed to scribble down the ingredients in a notebook.

At school, I expected the actual cooking to be the hard part. But I had to first get past the culinary vocabulary before I could get to the actual task at hand. My first instructor, a stern Swiss Chef would yell things like

“Class: You have one hour. Gather a rondeau, two third pans, one half hotel pan, one bain marie, glacés à brun a six pan of cippolinis, and I want 100 each perfectly tourned potatoes and carrots. I’m going to check your stations in ten minutes. Why are you staring at me…GO!”

HA HA HA. I can totally picture my face. I was probably frantically trying to remember what a rondeau was and didn’t even hear the rest. Don’t feel too bad for me. This is what I get for going to culinary school before working in an actual restaurant.

So when we learned to make pâte à choux it was a wonderful moment of relief. When making a batch, the dough naturally breaks and then comes back together with the addition of each egg. So in the span of a couple of minutes (or four eggs), something broken comes together four times. In the midst of so much newness, it was an incredibly satisfying recipe to learn. It would take years for me to learn the incredible range of this dough, but at the time it was perfect in its simplicity.

I mean, how often do you get to watch something break and then come together better than before, a glossy golden dough ready to be made into all sorts of delightful things like gougeres, eclairs, profiteroles (cream puffs), beignets, cakes, gnocchi, and honestly I have even made a killer sandwich from a split open eclair. Best of all, it is straightforward and easy to make.

Over Christmas I had an awesome afternoon with my nieces Anja, Calla, and Brynn making this dough. These girls are so fun and totally rocked it in the kitchen. They made an entire dinner for our family in Minnesota and most of the courses used pâte à choux! They made parmesan gougeres for an appetizer, gnocchi for the main course, and profiteroles and eclairs for dessert. I think we made eight batches of the dough in total and by the end they were each making their own batches and had the ingredients memorized. The day also happened to fall on my birthday (Dec. 28), so it was pretty much the best birthday ever.

I thought the best way to dig into this dough, is to start at the beginning of a meal with a beautiful canape (bite sized appetizer). These are particularly awesome right out of the oven and are equally at home being served at the beginning of a dinner party or in the middle of cozy afternoon.

Ingredients

1 c. water
1 stick of unsalted butter (4 oz)
1 c. AP flour
4 eggs
pinch of salt and pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 c. shredded gruyere cheese

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400 f.
  2. line a sheet tray with a silpat or parchment paper (not wax paper! I recently learned the hard way when I grabbed a box quickly without looking)
  3. In a medium saucepan bring water, butter, and salt to a boil over medium heat.
  4. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until dough comes away from the sides of the pan, about 30 seconds.
  5. Take the pan off of heat and add eggs one at a time, stirring until each egg is completely incorporated into the dough before adding the next one. This is when you will notice the dough will appear to “break”. Just keep stirring and before you know it, all will be well again and you will be ready to add the next egg.
  6. Stir in a pinch of pepper, nutmeg, and cheese.
  7. Use a spatula to transfer the dough to a piping bag. (you can even use a freezer bag with a corner snipped off). You are looking for about a ½” tip or opening.
  8. Pipe tablespoon size rounds (think 1”x1”) onto the sheet tray about 2 inches apart. There is a little bit of technique to give the gougères their round shape. I have a few tips for this:
    1. keep your pastry bag still when piping out the dough and keep the tip almost touching the sheet tray for each one.
    2. to make a clean break between the pastry bag and your piped gougere, instead of pulling up, make a quick and confident swipe to the side. This will leave a little mountain looking peak.
    3. After you’ve piped the entire tray, dip your finger in a little water and gently pat down the peak of each gougères.
  9. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and nicely puffed up. Remove from the oven, and serve immediately.
  10. To serve later, prick a hole in them with the tip of a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape. This will keep them crispy.

Component in Action

  • perfect just as is for a delicious canape
  • slice in half and make mini ham,swiss and dijon sandwiches
  • pipe into the side some softened fresh herb cream cheese