Pâte à choux, I love you: Adventures in Parisian Gnocchi

Gnocchi with nasturtium pesto

Gnocchi with nasturtium pesto

The French pastry dough pâte à choux has a delicious reputation. It’s used to make familiar treats such as profiteroles, éclairs and gougères (yum, cheesy poofs!). But one of its lesser known abilities is to make a pillowy soft gnocchi.

Parisian gnocchi is different from its Italian cousin — instead of potatoes it’s made with a combination of water, flour and eggs. It also doesn’t require any rolling or forming. Once the dough is made it’s simply put into a piping bag and slowly cut into boiling water, forming little dumplings.

I am a sucker for all things gnocchi related, so when my husband asked me if I’d like to learn the art of Parisian gnocchi, I immediately agreed.

His favorite recipe to use is the one from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook. You can find links to it all over but here’s a good direct one. We followed it except for the mixture of herbs. Instead we used minced nasturtium leaves, echoing the flavors in the pesto.

The pesto was a simple, off-the-cuff experiment. Using nasturtium leaves from our garden, we pureed them with toasted pine nuts, grated Parmesan and minced garlic, drizzling in olive oil until the consistency was right. You can mix in basil if you’d like less kick but I really liked the spice of the leaves — blended with the buttery nuts and the rich cheese, it was a lovely combination.

Here’s our dinner in the making:

Cooking the pâte à choux

Cooking the pâte à choux

Mixing in the eggs and herbs

Mixing in the eggs and herbs

Piping the dough into lightly boiling water

Piping the dough into lightly boiling water

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Parsley Pesto Perfection

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Growing up on an island in Alaska before the popularity of the Food Network meant my window in the culinary world was very limited. The most exotic foods that I remember eating as a kid were lumpia and “meat-on-a-stick” (likely a version on bulgogi) that some of the Filipino families would sell each summer at the annual Crab Festival.

I had certainly never heard of pesto and the first time I was confronted with it while visiting Italian relatives in Vancouver, BC, I was very suspicious. It didn’t seem right to coat pasta in anything besides the familiar red of marinara.

But once I tasted the garlicky herbaceous green sauce, I was sold. After that moment, one of my all-time favorite dinners as a teenager became linguine tossed with broccoli and pesto. I would get so excited when my mom would make it that I would hoard the leftovers to eat for lunch the next day. I still do this actually, old habits die hard.

As an adult, I’ve learned all the different variations one can do with pesto. I’ve made it with broccoli, watercress and arugula, and garlic scapes — all with equally delicious success. Besides the traditional pine nut, I’ve used everything from walnuts to sunflower seeds. So when I saw the June cover of Bon Appetit, featuring a gorgeous plate of pasta in pesto sauce, that was the first recipe I turned to. And there I found a twist I hadn’t yet made: parsley pesto with roasted almonds.

Ok, Bon Appetit, challenge accepted.

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Grilled Calzones: A dinner for winners!

A few weeks ago my friend Oliver and I decided to make dinner together and watch some Battlestar Galactica, our latest TV obsession. Since it was a weekend, we decided to be a bit more adventurous with our meal and as we were tossing some ideas around, inspiration suddenly hit. I had recently read a post on one of my new favorite blogs “Dinner for Winners” that involved grilled calzones. Which sounds pretty damn perfect to both of us.

Things started off innocently enough. We had a good spread of fillings: pesto, marinara, chicken, tomatoes, goat cheese, salami, mozzarella and caramelized onions. We had some dough, charcoal and a pizza stone.

I got the coals going, set the stone on the grill and then we got to work.


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Broccoli-Walnut Pesto: A fun & fresh spin on an old classic

I remember when I first discovered pesto. My great-aunt Kay made it for me when I was about 12 or 13, more than 20 years ago. My family was in Vancouver BC, visiting Kay and other relatives, and she had a big family dinner planned for one of the nights that we were in town. Kay was known for not only being an extraordinary cook, but also for preparing — in true Italian fashion — enough food to feed an army. One of the dishes she made that night was pasta in pesto sauce. I had never even seen pesto before and was a little hesitant to try it. I had no idea its green color came from basil and the idea of a green pasta sauce threw me for a loop.

I should take a quick moment to explain that I am from a small town on an island in Alaska. The produce in our grocery stores was certainly not of the best quality and I honestly can’t remember having seen fresh basil before. So this was definitely a first for me.

Once I took my first bite, I was hooked. It was amazing. I requested it again and again in the following years and my mother would always make some variation of it for me. To this day, one of my favorite combinations of all time is pesto mixed with any kind of pasta and broccoli.

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Speaking of Puff Pastry…

I wrote a post not too long ago discussing my love affair with onions. While I also briefly touched upon my affection for puff pastry, it occurred to me I could expand on this subject. Looking through pictures from the past few years, I found some excellent examples of why it’s a great idea to always keep a box of puff pastry in your freezer.

First up are some appetizers I did for Oliver’s birthday party last year. Since it was  a potluck-style game night, I thought a vegetarian-friendly finger food would be fun. In my recipe folder (of course!) I found a tartlet that involved ricotta cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes and puff pastry — clearly it was perfect.

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