One of my favorite scenes from the 2007 animated film “Ratatouille” is when snooty food critic Anton Ego experiences the above Proustian moment. He’s in a Parisian restaurant that has become a huge deal again, thanks in no small part to a street rat with a flair for flavor. Ego doesn’t know the business about the rat yet, which is one of the many reasons why this particular scene is so great.
But that’s not really why I’m writing this post.
I’m writing this post because of a David Lebovitz recipe that inspires the same sort of nostalgic overwhelm that Ego experienced. Lebovitz adapted a friend’s signature “Gnocchis a la Parisienne” dish, which is rich with cheese, Mornay sauce and these little dumplings made from pate a choux.
This is for my mother, who fell in love with the meal when I first made it and has been wanting the recipe ever since.
It is also for my dear friend Michelle, who recently purchased the perfect Le Creuset baking dish in which to make it.
But it’s also for anyone in search of a great go-to dinner full of basic ingredients you probably already have in your pantry or refrigerator.
Are you ready?
Here we go.
Gnocchis a la Parisienne
from David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories
For the pate a choux
1 1/4 cups of water
7 tablespoons of unsalted butter; room temperature, cubed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons dry mustard or mustard powder
For the Mornay sauce
5 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole or low-fat milk, warmed
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
Generous pinch of cayenne pepper
1 3/4 cups Gruyere (or you can substitute Emmenthal or Comte)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. To make the pate a choux, heat the water, butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted. Dump in all the flour at once and stir the mixture briskly for about 2 minutes, until the dough forms a smooth ball. Remove from the heat and scrape the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Lebovitz says if you don’t have a stand mixer, you can leave the dough in the saucepan.) Let the dough sit for 3 minutes, stirring it every so often to release some of the heat. Here’s what it should look like:
2. With the mixer on medium-high speed, or by hand, add the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the dry mustard and beat until the dough is completely smooth. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside. Prior to covering the dough, you should have something looking like this:
3. To make the Mornay sauce, melt the butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, letting the mixture bubble. Stir constantly for 2 minutes, until the paste is thickened. Do not let it brown. Gradually whisk in the milk, beginning slowly and stirring constantly to avoid lumps.
4. Decrease the heat to low and cook the Mornay for 6 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the sauce is about as thick as a milkshake. Remove from heat and add the salt, cayenne, and 1/2 cup of the Gruyere or whatever other Swiss-style cheese you decide to use. Stir until the cheese is melted.
5. Butter a shallow 2 1/2-to 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle half of the Parmesan over the bottom and sides. Spread 1 cup of Mornay sauce over the bottom of the baking dish like this:
6. Line a large dinner plate with a few layers of paper towels. Bring a pot of salted water to a low boil. Either using two soup spoons — one to scoop up some of the dough and the other to scrape it into the boiling water — or a spring-loaded ice cream scoop, scoop up about 1 generous tablespoon of dough and drop it into the water. Working in batches, poach 8 to 10 gnocchi at a time. Let them poach for 2 minutes, then retrieve them from the water and drain them on paper towels. They will not be fully cooked inside. Repeat until all the gnocchi dough is poached.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 F with the oven rack in the top third of the oven.
8. Once the gnocchi are parcooked, place them in a single layer on top of the Mornay in the baking dish, like this:
9. Then spoon the remaining Mornay over the gnocchi in an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining cheese (both Parmesan and Swiss-style) on top of that.
10. Put the dish on a foil-covered baking sheet and then bake for 15 minutes. Then increase the oven temperature to 400 F and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until the top is well browned. This could probably be browner, but you get the spirit of the thing (and the spirit is pretty delicious):
Let cool a few minutes and then serve with a green salad. This is good comfort food, good dinner party food and good family fare that kids will enjoy. It’s become the sort of meal my husband and child ask about if I haven’t made it in a few weeks and I hope you come to enjoy it as much as we do!