I wasn’t looking forward to this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe. It wasn’t one I suggested, and I certainly didn’t vote for it. In fact, I was for the first time thinking of skipping a recipe. You see, I don’t like gnocchi. As many times as I’ve tried it, I’ve always found it to be heavy and gummy, like pasta that has been overcooked to the point of sticking together in a big glob.
So, I wasn’t sure I would make this dish. In fact, I hadn’t even looked at the recipe. A few weeks ago, though, I was looking through Around My French Table when I came across the recipe for gnocchi à la parisienne. I was surprised to find out that, unlike Italian gnocchi, which is made from a potato dough, the French version is made with pâte à choux dough. This is the same basic dough used to make Dorie’s delicious Gougères. It’s also the same dough used for cream puffs.
My passion for choux dough matches — perhaps exceeds — my disdain for gnocchi, so I thought about giving this recipe a try. What finally tipped the scale was the fact that this dish also calls for béchamel, or white sauce. This is one of the mother sauces of French cooking, so I was looking forward to trying Dorie’s version.
After making the choux dough, I put a pot of water on to boil. The dough is much stickier than Italian gnocchi dough, and rather than rolling out the dough (which would be impossible) the gnocchi are formed by dropping the dough by teaspoonfuls into boiling, salted water.
After boiling the gnocchi, I let it cool while I made the béchamel.
To make the béchamel, I began by heating milk in one pan while I made a butter and flour roux in another. When the flour was cooked, I combined the roux with the scalded milk, added salt, pepper, and nutmeg, then cooked it all for a few minutes. I let the béchamel cool while I grated Gruyère cheese.
I assembled the gnocchi à la parisienne by layering parmesan cheese, gnocchi, béchamel, and Gruyère cheese in a buttered baking dish. I dotted the cheese with butter, then slid the whole thing into a 350°F oven.
I baked the gnocchi for 10 minutes, then increased the oven temperature to 400° and baked it for an additional 15 minutes, until the dish was bubbly and the cheese just beginning to brown.
I was surprised by how much this dish puffed up in the oven. Choux dough tends to do that, but since it hadn’t risen much when I boiled it, I wasn’t sure what to expect when it baked. It looked good and smelled great, so I was ready to set aside my feelings about gnocchi and give this dish a try.
Dorie compares this dish to macaroni and cheese in that it is best brought to the table and eaten immediately. It reminded me of mac and cheese in flavor, too, which may be why the kids liked it so well. It wasn’t as gummy as other gnocchi that I’ve eaten. It was still heavy, but the choux dough puffed up nicely and didn’t remind me of overcooked pasta.
My wife and I liked it — and I certainly enjoyed it much more than Italian gnocchi — but it wasn’t my favorite dish that I’ve made from this book. It was worth making, both to try the French version of gnocchi and to practice making béchamel. And I might even make it again as a side dish. But unlike most of the recipes we’ve made from Dorie’s book so far, this isn’t one that will become a regular on my table.