The word "gnocchi" conjures up images of the little cloud-like potato dumplings served at Italian restaurants. But what many don't realize — inlcuding myself until very recently — is that there's a French version of gnocchi in which potatoes aren't involved at all.
Using a base of pâte à choux (a.k.a. cream puff dough minus the sugar), small, cylindrical dumplings are piped into simmering water, shocked in an ice bath, then either baked with cheese in a casserole dish or sauteed until golden brown (as I've done below). They're puffy and, I find, a bit lighter in texture than Italian gnocchi.
These "Parisian-style" gnocchi can be used just like the Italian kind. I've tossed mine into a warm "salad" of sorts with Mediterranean flavor influences from Southeastern France. Mind you, the elements in this dish can be on the salty side, so my advice would be to not add salt to the salad portion, just a dash of pepper when it's finished.
Gnocchi Parisienne "Salad" à la Provençal
Adapted from Jacques Pépin
Makes 4 side dish servings
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons olive or canola oil, divided
1/4 large yellow onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2-3 roasted red peppers, sliced
3 marinated artichoke hearts, quartered
1/2 cup olives (I used small French Niçoise and Picholine olives)
3 cups baby spinach
1 teaspoon lemon thyme (regular thyme, tarragon or basil also work just fine)
A few dashes of balsamic vinegar
A few squeezes of fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
3/4 cup grated parmesan or asiago (or a blend)
1. In a small, heavy saucepan, add butter and milk and bring to a boil. Remove pan from the heat and add the flour all at once, mixing it in quickly with a wooden spoon. Return the pan to low heat and keep stirring until the mixture forms a solid mass. Continue cooking for another minute, stirring.
2. Put the dough bowl of a food processor or stand mixer with a paddle (or use a handheld mixer) and stir for a few seconds, allowing some of the steam to escape. Add the eggs, one by one, until each is completely incorporated and the dough is shiny and smooth. Add the salt and 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Mix for 15 to 20 seconds.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer. Transfer dough to a piping bag with a large, round tip and pipe 1 1/2-inch lengths of dough into the water (use kitchen shears or a knife to help cut the dough as it is piped), or use a tablespoon and scoop 2 teaspoons worth of dough per dumpling into the water with your index finger.
4. Let the gnocchi cook for about 3 minutes (they'll rise to the surface when they're done). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to an ice bath, cool for about a minute, then drain and dry them. (They can be refrigerated for later use at this point.)
5. Bring a large saute pan with 3 tablespoons of oil to medium-high heat. Add all of the gnocchi, spread them out for even cooking. Let them brown and firm up sufficiently on either side, about 1-2 minutes, then transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate. Remove the pan from the heat and wipe it out.
6. Add the other 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan and and reheat to medium. Add the garlic and onion and saute until just translucent, stirring so as not to brown them, about 4-5 minutes. Add the roasted peppers through olives, stir around a bit and cook for about a minute or so until their liquids are almost evaporated. Add the gnocchi back to the pan along with the spinach, thyme and vinegar. Fold the spinach into the mixture until it has just wilted. Squeeze lemon juice over the mixture, add the ground pepper and give it another stir. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with grated cheese.