I was introduced to these light as air dumplings, not in a French restaurant but in one that specializes in the cuisine of the Mediterranean and Middle East.
I was hooked on the first bite and had to come home and start researching and testing various recipes to make them. This recipe is an adaption of many including one by Jacques Pepin. They are perfect served with a green salad, a crusty baguette and of course glass of wine.
1 ½ cups whole milk
3 sprigs fresh thyme
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, optional
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
5 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Start heating about 5-inches of water in a large saucepan or small stock pot.
In a heavy, medium-sized saucepan, add thyme sprigs and milk and bring just to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow the thyme sprigs to steep for about 10 minutes.
While the thyme is steeping gently heat 5 tablespoons butter, olive oil and herbes de Provence in a small sauté pan. Cook on very low heat for about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to use.
Strain the milk through a sieve discarding the thyme sprigs. Return the milk to the saucepan and place back on the heat. Add the remaining 6 tablespoons butter and salt and return just to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the nutmeg and flour all at once, mixing it in quickly with a wooden spoon. Return the pan to low heat and keep stirring; the mixture will form a solid mass. Continue cooking for about 1 minute to dry and cook the dough a bit.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment beat on low for about 10 seconds. Raise the speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate and scrapping down the bowl before adding the next egg. After all the eggs are incorporated add 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese and mix to incorporate.
The 5-inches of water in the saucepan or stock-pot is ready when it comes to a simmer. If the dumplings boil, they will cook too fast, causing them to expand and eventually deflate. They should poach as they will puff-up later when reheated in the oven.
Using about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of dough per dumpling, scoop up the dough with a tablespoon, then push it off with your index finger into the simmering water; releasing the dough close to the water so it doesn’t splash on you.
Repeat, scooping and forming the dough as quickly as possible until it has all been formed into gnocchi. Alternatively, fit a pastry bag with a 1-inch plain tip and fill the bag with the dough. Rest the pastry tip on the edge of the saucepan, press the dough out, and cut it off at the tip with a paring knife as the dough emerges, making small gnocchi, each approximately 1 1/2-inches long.
Poach the gnocchi in simmering water for approximately 3 minutes. They will rise to the surface when they are sufficiently cooked. Using a slotted spoon, lift the gnocchi carefully from the water and place them in a bowl of ice water to cool. They will sink to the bottom of the bowl when cool. Drain and use right away, or refrigerate on a Silpat lined sheet pan for later use.
When ready to finish cooking, preheat the oven to 375°F. Arrange the cold gnocchi in one layer in a large oven-proof making dish or divide in individual gratin dishes. Pour the butter and oil mixture over them and top with the grated cheeses. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned. Sprinkle with additional cheese shavings, and serve.