If you like light, fluffy gnocchi, but have a hard time getting them to turn out that way when you use potatoes, you’ll want to try these. Based on a choux pastry dough and piped directly into simmering water, these are easy to make, turn out tender and fluffy, and are so tasty you don’t even notice that they aren’t made with potatoes. We had first read about them in The French Market Cookbook, by Clotilde Dusoulier, in which she gives a recipe for Mushroom broth with Parisian Gnocchi. The recipe sounded so good and easy we just had to try it!
Now, we know that a number of people out there might be afraid to try making a choux pastry dough. After all, that’s the dough that puffs up light and airy in the oven to make cream puffs or gougères. We will counter with a quote from The Joy of Cooking: “Please stop thinking of this basic, quite easy paste as something for adventurous moments only.” There you go, basic and quite easy. To which we say, quite right. So let’s scratch up some Parisian gnocchi. Joy goes on to point out that choux pastry makes delicious gnocchi. We need to read that book more carefully!
If you already have a favorite recipe for choux pastry dough, use that; you might have to scale it up or down to make a similar amount. If you don’t like the idea of beating in the eggs by hand, you can transfer the dough to the mixer and let it do some of the hard work. See the gougère recipe for an example. Everything in here is pretty standard, although you know our thoughts on eggs. As far as the spices go, feel free to change them, depending on what kind of sauce you’ll be having with the gnocchi. We were going with a simple tomato sauce, so we went with fresh basil. If you’re planning a mushroom sauce, something more woodsy would be appropriate, perhaps thyme or tarragon.
Procedure in detail:
Mise en place. Yep, part of this recipe goes fast and needs your full attention. You won’t have the time to measure out ingredients partway through making the choux pastry dough, so do it now. That way, when the time comes to add the flour all at once, you won’t be fumbling with the measuring cup while your milk burns. (For a similar tale, look up Nero.)
Simmer milk. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the milk, salt, and butter to a simmer. Some people will say cut the butter into pieces first; we say it will melt. The amount of butter you’re adding isn’t the size of an iceberg, it’s just a little over half a stick. While the milk is heating, stir continuously with a wooden spoon. You’ll know that it’s getting close to simmering when the milk gets a bit frothy around the edges. We wait until we can feel the milk just beginning to scald on the bottom of the pan. The spoon will hit little sticky spots of scalded milk which you’ll feel it as you stir; we consider it to be simmering at that point.
Add flour. Dump the flour in all at once, reduce heat to medium-low, and stir vigorously with that wooden spoon. The dough will look shaggy at first, and may even look as if you just made a huge mess, but keep stirring with all the vigor you can muster. There, see, it came together to make a smooth dough.
Cook. Continue stirring the dough over medium-high heat to cook off a bit of the moisture, about 3 minutes. When the dough starts to leave a film on the bottom of the pan, you’ve cooked off enough of the moisture, so remove the pan from the heat.
Wait. Wait three minutes for the dough to cool down a bit. Plus, this will give your arm a little rest before we get back to stirring.
Add spices. Now, stir in the basil, pepper, and nutmeg, or whatever spices you’re using. Steel yourself for the next few minutes of mixing. Don’t worry, it’s not that bad. You’ve gone this far, and scratchers aren’t quitters.
Add eggs. Crack an egg into the dough and stir to incorporate. It will look as though the dough has broken (separated) at first, and you’ve just made a real mess, but smile, have confidence, and keep stirring; the dough will come together. When it comes back together, repeat with the next egg. Continue doing this until you’ve added all four eggs and they’re completely incorporated into the dough.
Transfer to a Ziplock. Scrape the dough from the pan into a Ziplock-style freezer bag, press out all the air, and seal. It helps to have someone hold up the bag while you scoop in the dough, but, failing that, you could set the bag in a small saucepan and fold the seal over the edge of the pan to hold it upright.
Refrigerate. Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least and hour or up to one day. This gives you the opportunity to clean up and star making your sauce if you haven’t done that already.
Boil. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a simmer. We used about 1 teaspoon of salt to 2 1/2 quarts water. We’ll be using this water to boil the gnocchi, much as one would boil dumplings or fresh pasta. Only these cook faster.
Pipe dough. Cut a corner off your bag of dough so that you have an opening about 1/2-inch wide. Squeeze out dough over the simmering water. As the dough squeezes out, use a kitchen shear to snip off lengths 1/2- to 3/4-inch long. They’ll sink to the bottom, but, after a minute, they’ll float back up to the surface. Let them simmer in the water for a minute or two, then remove with a slotted spoon and place directly in your sauce to keep warm. Be gentle, as these gnocchi are quite tender and light; you can easily tear them to pieces.
Serve immediately. Once you’ve cooked all your gnocchi and they’re sitting in your simmering sauce, serve up your meal and enjoy.
We’d read in various places that you can pipe out gnocchi directly into simmering water, but, for potato gnocchi, which is what we usually make, it seemed that the dough would be too stiff for this technique to be effective. But, with choux pastry dough, it’s probably the only way you could make them. It’s a little more trouble than rolling out ropes of dough on the counter, but it is definitely worth it. These are some of the lightest gnocchi we’ve ever had. Much, much lighter than our potato gnocchi, even lighter than the gnocchi served at our favorite Italian restaurant (and that is some light gnocchi). These gnocchi are truly puffy clouds floating in your favorite sauce. Outstanding, and well worth five stars.