Having successfully survived cooking Easter dinner for twenty five family members, Mom promoted me to chef for the family Xmas Eve dinner this year. Since I would be cooking for only eleven people the menu should have been easier to navigate, but she threw me a curve by choosing a menu that was particularly time sensitive: beef tenderloin, asparagus, and “some sort of starch that’s not potatoes.”
I planned out the timing on the beef and asparagus (broil-roast the asparagus during the resting period for the beef), knew I could make a sauce Bernaise for both that I could hold until service, but the starch had me stumped. I had no desire to finish a par-cooked risotto a la minute, but I couldn’t think of a do-ahead dish worthy of the occasion.
Then I remembered this Thomas Keller video in which he makes gnocchi à la Parisienne, and knew the dish was just what I needed.
He makes it look easy, and it is. I had already made pâte à choux before, so I knew the basic steps. I used the recipe from Keller’s Bouchon cookbook, and assembled my ingredients: six eggs, one and a half cups of water, two cups of flour, twelve tablespoons of unsalted butter, four teaspoons of kosher salt, one cup of shredded Emmenthaler cheese, a tablespoon each of chopped parsley, chives, and tarragon, and two tablespoons of Dijon mustard. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of chopped chervil — one of Keller’s favorite herbs — but I have never been able to find it anywhere.
I brought the water, butter, and a teaspoon of the salt to a simmer over medium-high heat.
I reduced the heat to medium and added the flour all at once, stirring rapidly with a wooden spoon until the dough pulled away from the sides and bottom of the pan.
I continued to stir for about five minutes, until a thin film formed on the pan and steam rose up from the dough. I transferred the dough to a stand mixer, added the mustard and herbs, and mixed briefly to combine before adding the cheese. I added three eggs, one at a time on low speed, waiting until each egg was incorporated until adding the next. I increased the speed to medium and added two more eggs, then checked the consistency of the dough. It was too thick, so I added one more egg for a total of six.
I put the dough in a gallon zip-top bag and let it rest at room temperature for thirty minutes.
While the dough rested, I set up a large pot of barely simmering water, and a second pot filled with ice water and a large strainer. I didn’t have a number eight pastry tip (do you?), so I simply cut off a corner of the bag and started squeezing out dough, which I cut into inch-long pieces with a knife (action shot by She Who Must Be Obeyed).
In the video, Keller casually knocks off a few dozen gnocchi, but I had some trouble. The dough stuck to the knife, making it almost impossible to cut cleanly. Once I abandoned the knife and used my kitchen shears, the process moved along at a rapid clip. (He also mentions that it’s a great task for children, but He Who Will Not Be Ignored was nowhere to be found.) I cut about two dozen gnocchi into the hot water, where they cooked until they floated to the top.
Using a spider, I transferred the cooked gnocchi to the pot of ice water to cool them.
I lifted them out of the ice water with the strainer and moved them to a towel-lined baking sheet to drain off the excess moisture. (All New England kitchen towels have either fish or lobsters on them.)
The drained gnocchi were moved to parchment-lined baking sheets.
I wound up with 165 gnocchi, about a third less than the 240 Keller says the recipe makes. I attribute the discrepancy to my cutting too large a hole in the plastic bag. The sheets went into the Belm Research Kitchen Cryonic Storage Facility for an overnight chill.
I placed the frozen gnocchi into a plastic bag and transported them on ice to Mom’s freezer, where they sat until just before dinnertime.
While the beef and asparagus rested, I heated olive oil and butter in two skillets over medium-high heat, then divided the frozen gnocchi into the pans. I sauteed them for about five minutes, tossing gently but frequently to get them brown and crisp. When they were crispy and heated through I garnished them with some chopped chives.
These were a big hit. They were crispy on the outside bit moist and soft on the inside. You could taste the mustard, cheese, and herbs, but no one flavor overpowered another.
I know I’ll be making another batch soon, just to have on hand for future meals.