“What makes these gnocchi French?” is the question that was asked when I served them. A very good question, indeed.
French gnocchi are made without semolina or potatoes that are used to make the more common Italian gnocchi. They are actually made from pâte à choux, that incredibly versatile dough that is used to make everything from gougères to éclairs. Pâte à choux is composed simply of butter, flour, eggs, and water (sometimes milk); the proportions of these ingredients vary depending on what the final product will be.
The first time I made French gnocchi was about five months ago; one of my friends and I had a little dinner party at his house (we were the only guests) and we served these in a red wine sauce with sautéed wild mushrooms. The dough was quite simple to make, but forming them was another story. I chose to pipe out tiny dumplings using a pastry bag; by the time I got through with all of the dough (and it makes a lot of little gnocchi), I thought my weak little arm was going to fall off. I’ve been working out since then, though, and this time, the piping was painless – I guess the weight lifting has paid off.
I really love the texture of these petite dumplings: they’re very delicate and tender but not at all mushy, and they lack the graininess of potato gnocchi that I so despise. The addition of herbs, which is entirely optional but highly recommended, really transforms these gnocchi into something special. I put these herbed gnocchi into a spring vegetable soup, but they would also be great in a light butter sauce with some spring vegetables or even with a heartier accompaniment like the mushrooms and red wine I used last time I made these. Another way to serve them is to smother them with cheese or sauce and then bake them. I’ve never tried that, but I might have to do so with the leftover gnocchi in my freezer.
One more thing: don’t be intimidated by this recipe if 1) you don’t have a stand mixer or 2) you don’t have a piping bag and tips (or you don’t want to pipe out 200 gnocchi because really you would have to be slightly crazy and a bit of a masochist to want to do that). Here are ways to get around both of those issues:
1) Process the dough in a food processor using the dough blade. Just make sure that you slowly pulse the mixture instead of whipping it into a frenzy.
2) Two alternative ways to shape the gnocchi:
a. Put the dough into a quart-sized resealable plastic bag and snip off the corner. Pipe as directed in the recipe. I cannot guarantee the success of the method – the bag might not be sturdy enough to stand up to this dough. Double-bagging might help. Let me know how it turns out if you try it.
b. Scoop up tiny spoonfuls of the dough and push it off the spoon with another spoon to form little rustic dumplings.
Herbed French Gnocchi (Gnocchi Parisienne)
½ cup whole milk
½ cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
½ teaspoon minced fresh sage
½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (loosely packed) finely grated Gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 large eggs
Have all the ingredients ready before you begin.
Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and pour all the flour in. Stir the mixture well with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated. Return the saucepan to the stove and lower the heat to medium. Continue to stir the mixture until steam steadily rises from the pan; this will take about 3 minutes.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer to the lowest speed and add the parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and salt. Mix for 5 seconds and then add both cheeses. When the cheese is fully incorporated, add one egg and mix until fully incorporated. Repeat with the second egg. Add the third egg and increase the mixer speed to medium. Mix until the mixture is uniform and is barely sticky; this will take about 10 seconds.
Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a large round tip – I used a 5/8” tip (not sure of the Ateco #) no more than 2/3 full with the dough (I used half of the dough). Cover the mixer bowl so that the remaining dough doesn’t dry out.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a simmer. Hold the pastry bag horizontally over the pot and gently squeeze the bag to extrude the dough.
Using a small sharp knife (a paring knife works well), cut the dough off when it is about ¾” long and let it fall directly into the water. Pipe about 25 gnocchi into the pot at a time. After the gnocchi rise to the surface, cook them for 2 minutes. Remove the gnocchi from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain them on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat this process until all the dough has been used up. This takes a while, but I think it’s worth it.
If you plan to serve the gnocchi either in a soup or plated with sauce or butter shortly after making them, cook them for a total of 5-6 minutes after they rise to the top. [Make sure that the water remains at a simmer – if the gnocchi cook too fast, they will puff up and get mushy.]
The par-boiled gnocchi can be either baked with cheese or sauce or frozen – arrange the gnocchi in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, put the baking sheet in the freezer for an hour, then transfer the gnocchi to plastic bags or containers. Cook the frozen gnocchi by simmering them for 5-6 minutes, or by defrosting them slightly and then baking them.