Gnocchi Parisienne with Vegetables
The first (and only) restaurant of Thomas Keller's we have been to is Bouchon in the Venetian in Las Vegas. It was a highlight of our trip as much as anything else in Vegas. My main course was Keller's Gnocchi with Vegetables, a seasonal dish he makes that's actually vegetarian (ovo-lacto, anyway, as ingredients include butter, cheese, and eggs).
There are basically three types of gnocchi in the culinary world -- potato based, semolina wheat, and Parisienne, though there are branching relatives including spätzle, even to types of Chinese dumplings. There's only so much you can do with flour, eggs, and boiling water.
Keller's gnocchi (and my favorite) are the Parisienne -- wheat flour, with cheese and herbs. They're not the most delicately made gnocci of the bunch, they're not hand folded or fork kissed or wrapped into a pretty crescent. They are awfully tasty, though, light and fluffy, and especially when gently sautéed and browned in a brown butter sauce with some simple vegetables and herbs.
My gnocchi are adapted from Keller's Bouchon cookbook (I'm making a half-recipe, but extra gnocchi freeze really well), and I have to admit I bought the cookbook specifically for his gnocchi recipe. The other dishes I've made from the cookbook are wonderful, the roasted chicken alone has changed my culinary outlook, but I was sold on the gnocchi -- they really are much more tasty than gnocchi would seem to be.
Start with four classic herbs, chives, thyme, tarragon, and parsley, chopped and minced, a half tablespoon each.
In a saucepan, I start with 3/4 cup water, 6 tablespoons of butter, and a teaspoon or so of salt.
When the butter has melted and the water/butter is at a light simmer, I add 1 cup of flour, and stir. At first, the flour/water/butter will clump up and mix together, and the pan will be pretty clean, but pretty soon (a couple minutes), a flour film will form on the pan, steam will rise, and there will be a nice baking flour smell.
This point is where the dough goes into a mixer. It's not rocket science, but if it's too soon and steam isn't rising off the dough, it's not going to be able to pull in the fat from the eggs. If it's too late, the flour is going to singe on the pan and get a bad flavor. The film of flour sticking to the pan is a good indicator, especially if stirring the dough in the pan doesn't pull it up again. So, toss it in the mixer, add the chopped herbs, and a tablespoon of dijon mustard.
The mixer goes on low to incorporate the herbs and mustard, and meanwhile, I grated 1/2 cup or so of cheese. Keller recommends Emmentaler (a type of swiss I'm using), or Comté (a type of Gruyère), but any medium density cheese would work. I've been thinking lately of a variant that uses Latin herbs with a pepper jack, and I bet it would be pretty tasty.
After the herbs and mustard are incorporated, add the cheese and blend
Once the cheese is pretty much melted into the dough, I added 4 eggs, one at a time until fully incorporated. A spatula might be needed to push dough off the sides of the bowl, into the center.
The dough goes into a pastry bag with a 5/8" circular tip. Once shoved in and compacted, it should cool off to room temperature (20 minutes or so).
When cool, I set a big pot of salted water to a light simmer. The idea now is to squirt out an inch or so of dough, and chop it off with a knife right at the tip of the pastry nib. I do about 25 at a time. The dough will sink at first, then as it poaches in the simmering water, it will rise. Another minute or two, and the gnocchi are scooped off and put on parchment paper.
They're actually a little underdone at this point, which is good, because they're going to be cooked again later. The tray is thrown in the fridge until chilled (and once chilled, the extras may be tossed in a freezer bag and frozen for up to a couple months).
While chilling, I cut a zucchini in half and scoop out the center seedy portion with a spoon, then chop into crescents. I stem some criminis and slice them as well as chopping a couple scallions, and some more of the parsley, chives, thyme, and tarragon.
I heat a 12" pan over medium-high, then add some olive oil and sauté the zucchini for a few minutes until soft, then add the mushrooms until they're soft. Once cooked, I pull them off to the side in a bowl until later.
In the same pan, I toss in about 4 tablespoons of butter and heat gently on medium until the water evaporates off and the milk solids just start to toast.
I toss in the gnocchi and sauté until they start to brown, shaking the pan so they brown evenly.
I throw in the mushrooms/zucchini, the herbs, and the juice of one lemon. At the last few moments, just 10-20 seconds before everything is warmed, I throw the scallions in, so there's still a bit of crunch to them.
The gnocchi and vegetables are served in a bowl, with just a little grated Parmigiano Reggiano, which is not strictly Parisienne, but the salty sharpness goes well with the herbs and lemon brown butter.
Deconstruction: The lightly browned gnocchi have a little brown texture on the outside, but are soft on the inside. The mustard/cheese/herb taste is just outstanding -- elegant yet rustic. The zucchini really benefits from the olive oil and lemon brown butter. It almost tastes like avocado, and that's saying a lot because zucchini is not exactly my favorite vegetable. With all the lemon brightness, and cheesy herbiness, the criminis give a bit of earthiness as well, and I'll eat scallions on virtually anything, though their biting green goes well with the classic herbs.
This is one of my favorite meals, I've made it a lot, especially for impromptu dinner parties. Once the gnocchi are made and frozen, it's only a matter of a light brown butter sauté with any vegetables that are in season at the time.