Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gnocchi à la parisienne (Baked dumplings in Mornay sauce)

Gnocchi (nyo-kee) à la parisienne is a French version of gnocchi baked with a Mornay sauce. Although it’s a simple recipe, there are a couple of culinary things to learn, including how to make pâte à choux and Mornay sauce.

Gnocchi means “lumps” or “dumplings”. But these lumps are pillowy-soft-melt-in-your-mouth lumps since they’re made out of pâte à choux (not potatoes like their Italian counterpart). The gnocchi is spooned or piped into 180° water where it cooks until it floats to the top. The high moisture content and the eggs in the pâte à choux create steam that puffs each tender gnocchi. However, due to their delicate nature, if you overcook them, they’ll fall apart.

Pâte à choux (pronounced “shoe”), also called choux paste, hearkens back to 1540 and comes from the word “choux”, which means cabbage in French— that’s what pâte à choux looks like when baked as traditional cream puffs. Choux paste contains four simple ingredients: butter, water, flour, and eggs. Pâte à choux is such a versatile recipe, and can be used for both sweet and savory dishes, such as Gougères or chouquettes, Pommes dauphine, Croquembouche, and even Paris-Brest.

The Mornay sauce that covers the gnocchi is a béchamel sauce with the addition of cheese (usually half Gruyère and half Parmesan). A béchamel sauce is a roux blanc with the addition of milk. A roux blanc is flour and butter that are cooked just long enough to eliminate the taste of raw flour without coloring the mixture. So, to summarize:

Mornay = béchamel + cheese + eggs (sometimes)
Béchamel = roux blanc + milk
Roux blanc = butter + flour

Gnocchi à la parisienne is cooked au gratin, meaning covered with butter and grated cheese and then browned in an oven.

Recipe for Gnocchi à la parisienne adapted from Link and Link

Pâte à choux:

1 cup milk
½ stick unsalted butter (4 tablespoons or ¼ cup or 2 ounces)
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 large eggs

Mornay Sauce:

1 to 1½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons (25 grams) butter
2 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour
freshly ground nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (25 grams) Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon butter, chilled, diced

For the pâte à choux:

Combine the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat until the butter melts and the milk boils.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Beat until a thick mixture forms. Stir over low heat until the mixture pulls away from the pan and the mixture dries a bit. Cool slightly. (If you don’t cool the mixture, the eggs will scramble when you add them.)

Add the salt, Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg. Then beat in the first 2 eggs, one at a time, beating until thoroughly blended after each addition. Then lightly beat the third egg in a small bowl and add it little by little. Add just enough beaten egg for the mixture to become smooth and shiny and fall slowly from the spoon in a point.

For the gnocchi:

Bring a pot of salted water to almost a boil (180°F). Prepare an ice water bath.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, fill the bag with the gnocchi dough. Press the dough out and cut it off at the tip using a paring knife, making small rectangular gnocchi.

Poach the gnocchi in the water for about 3 minutes. When they are cooked, they will float to the surface. Carefully lift the gnocchi out with a slotted spoon (they will not be completely cooked inside) and gently drop them in a bowl of iced water to cool. They will sink to the bottom of the bowl when cool. Drain and use right away, or refrigerate for later use.

Note: You can freeze the gnocchi on a sheet pan and then store in a freezer bag for up to six weeks.

For the Mornay sauce:

Bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour. Cook the flour for a few minutes without allowing it to color. Whisk in the milk and continue whisking until thickened. Season the sauce with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Off heat, add the Parmesan cheese.

If you add the cheese while it is still on the heat, it will become stringy. If the sauce has lumps, pass it through a fine strainer and reheat in a clean saucepan.

Thin as desired with scalded cream. Taste and adjust seasonings. Keep warm (over a saucepan of hot water) until needed.

To finish the gnocchi:

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread a little of the Mornay sauce over the bottom of the gratin dish. Spoon the gnocchi on top of the sauce. Top with more sauce. Dot with butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake until the surface is browned, about 15-20 minutes. Broil to finish browning the top. Sprinkle with parsley.


You can use different cheeses, such as Gruyère, Comté, or Emmentaler. You can also add herbs, such as chervil, chives, parsley, tarragon, or basil or a combination.

Tasting Notes

Gnocchi à la parisienne has a clean, tender yet chewy, eggy taste. Although the gnocchi taste light, they are full of calories and definitely not on the diet list. Next time, I'll add more salt since it tasted very bland.

. . . . . . . . . .

Running total:
$167.53 + $3.35 = $170.88

Butter used so far:
3 pounds, 16.5 tablespoons


Anonymous said...

I liked the freezing tip. Also appreciated the detail regarding exactly how long to boil, etc. Great blog.