Being Italian I’ve made multiple versions of gnocchi in the past few years. In fact it was one of the first things I attempted to cook when I started this whole “cooking quest”. Jacob and I have made at least 4 or 5 different versions in the past year. We have baked the potatoes, with salt and without salt, boiled the potatoes, put them through a ricer and through a food mill. We have made them with bolongese sauce, with cream sauce and browned butter. So in other words, we have made our share of gnocchi.
Last year I was looking through Thomas Keller’s book “Bouchon”. I noticed a recipe for gnocchi that didn’t use any potato, but used a dough made with flour, butter and boiling water. At the time I had no idea what this was all about, but vowed to make it one day. I vaguely remember Nancy telling me then what the dough was, but I was lost in thought at the time, or maybe I wasn’t really paying attention. Sorry my love!
A few weeks ago I was looking through the “Cafe Beaujolais” cookbook from Mendocino, California and another gnocchi recipe caught my eye. This one too had the same dough in it. What was this stuff? So yesterday I told Nancy and our baker Joannie about it and asked them for details on this mystery dough. At exactly the same time they both said in a loud voice from two sides of the restaurant, “that’s a choux pastry, a pâte à choux”. Then Joannie, who is Italian, said “Gnocchi, that’s not gnocchi! Well I guess you could call it a gnocchi,” as she made quote marks with her fingers in the air.
So I started to do some research on what a pâte à choux is. Here is what I found… It is a versatile dough of flour, water, butter and eggs distinguished by the fact that the flour is combined with the butter and water and partially cooked before the eggs are added to it. The resulting dough, which puffs when it bakes, has a light and elegant texture. It is used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, éclairs, French crullers, beignets, and gougeres.
I was excited. I get to try something new and adventurous… new dough, new fancy name, piping bag.. yeah! All I had to do was get out of the restaurant at a reasonable time so I could get home, work out and make dinner before I fell over with exhaustion and delayed my cooking for another day!
It was going to be questionable since our refrigeration guy was supposed to be coming at 4:00 to do regular preventative maintenance on all of the refrigerators and freezers and display cases. He’s a great guy and often times after he finishes we end up spending an hour hanging out and trading stories. For the record, refrigeration has been the bane of my restaurant-owning existence. If it’s not one thing breaking it’s another. There is nothing worse than coming in in the morning to find out that $500 of product has to be thrown out because a compressor froze up and stopped working overnight. Fortunately Nancy found this guy 6 months ago and he has kept everything in tip top shape since.
He is a very busy guy though and I was hoping he would call me to reschedule so I could take off and get home… fortunately or maybe unfortunately, not sure, he did and I was out of there like a rocket ship blasting off.
Nancy was going to be gone with her running group so it was going to be all me. She would get home in time to eat the results, but if something went wrong it was going to be up to me to figure it out. Fortunately nothing went wrong, in fact other than dropping a half cup of flour all over, things went smoothly.
The dish was incredibly rich, the gnocchi were light and airy. In fact the texture was what I have only dreamed of when making traditional potato gnocchi. I can’t wait until we have our next dinner party, because I’m going to make this for the first course. I think I will present them in a small ramekin with just about 12 pieces per person. What a way to start a dinner… I’ll have Nancy do the main course since I’m not sure I can top them!
All I can say is make these as soon as you can. You will love them and so will your family or guests. These as a primi, maybe Osso Bucco as the main and a tiramisu for dessert. WOW!
Baked Gnocchi with Prosciutto & Gorgonzola (serves 4)
(adapted from the Cafe Beaujolais Cookbook)
- 1 cup cold water
- 1 stick butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1.5 oz. chopped prosciutto (put in the freezer for 15 minutes before chopping)
- 4 oz flavorful cheese (Stilton, Gorgonzola, Muenster) I used half Gorgonzola and half Muenster
Fill a 6 quart pan 3/4 full of water and bring to boil. You are going to par-cook the gnocchi in this water, meaning you will drop them into the boiling water for a bit, then finish cooking in the oven.
In a medium-sized pan, place 1 cup of cold water and butter and bring to a boil. You want the butter to be melted fully just as the water boils.
Add salt to flour and then add the flour/salt mixture to the water all at once. Remove the pan from the heat and beat with gusto with a wooden spoon or whisk, to make a smooth paste.
Put the pan back on the stove, with medium heat, and dry the paste by scraping it toward you with the wooden spoon or a spatula, flipping the paste over. Keep the paste moving to dehydrate it. The less water remaining, the more readily the paste will absorb the eggs. (I did this part for 2 or 3 minutes.)
The paste with steam, form a film on the bottom of the pan, and butter will glisten on the surface.
Remove pan from the heat. Add whole eggs, one at a time. Each time an egg is added, the paste with appear to separate. Continue to beat with the wooden spoon and it will come back together.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Put the finished paste in a pastry bag, cut off enough of the end so that when you push through the dough it will be about 3/4 inch thick. Hold a knife or clean scissors in one hand, the pastry bag in the other over the boiling water. Squeeze and cut after 1 inch of paste emerges. The knife or scissors may get gummy, so you can dip them in the boiling water to clean.
The dumplings will fall into the water and sink to the bottom. When they rise to the top they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon to a buttered plate.
Butter a medium-sized 8×8 inch baking dish and pour enough cream to coat bottom. Cover with the chopped prosciutto, half the cheese, then the gnocchi, then the remaining cheese and finally the remaining cream. Bake for about 1hour until cream is mostly absorbed and gnocchi turn golden. Eat right away.
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