Despite my epic failure a few weeks ago attempting homemade ramen, aka alkaline noodles, I still wanted to try making instant ramen gnocchi found in the maiden voyage of “Lucky Peach.” (See my notes on homemade ramen and Arzak eggs here.) This recipe is the equivalent of a triple dog dare. I mean, how could it taste even remotely good? And yet, that’s exactly what is promised-indistinguishably good gnocchi parisienne.
Should I have attempted this feat after a proper night’s sleep? Absolutely. As a result, I spent all Sunday afternoon making mistake after mistake, probably four hours total. (Yes, I stopped to take pictures, but I did that between steps.)
Most of my mistakes had to do with bad equipment decisions, stemming in part from my late night Glee induced haze, and partly from poor directions. I will give you my notes so you can make this dish for yourself (in much more reasonable time, certainly not half a day). And yes, you should make it, at least once. The transformation from this:
Here are my suggestions on how to save time, batter, and sanity while making this recipe:
1) ‘Bring 2 cups of milk to a boil and then immediately remove from heat.’
This direction sounds quick and easy, and yet it took those little bubbles 45 minutes to skim the surface. I set the heat at medium to avoid scalding. Perhaps medium is too conservative? The recipe doesn’t specify heat level.
My suggestions: One: Before pouring the milk into a saucepan, microwave it in a shallow bowl for 2 minutes, stirring at least once halfway through. Liquids boil faster when starting at a higher temperature. Why I haven’t tried my own advice yet is beyond me. Two: don’t use a 2 qt saucepan. Use a 10” or 12” skillet. The large surface area encourages faster boiling.
2) ‘Steep two packages of instant ramen (sans flavor packets) in the hot milk for a minute, noodles should still be firm.’
It made sense to just add the noodles to the saucepan for steepage, but the noodles don’t fit well in a 2 qt saucepan. I then tried a 2 qt casserole dish, which was wider, but only slightly better.
Revision: If you don’t use a skillet, pour hot milk into a long, shallow pan that can accommodate submerging both packages of noodles at the same time.
3) ‘Strain noodles and put them into a blender with 1 cup reserved milk. Blend for half a minute.’
(Because it took so long to boil, much of the milk evaporated. I had to add an extra ¼ cup to make a full cup.) I have an excellent KitchenAid blender capable of crushing ice, but it completely choked on the dough, even after adding another 3 Tablespoons of milk!
Revision: Unless you have a Vitamix, do not use a blender. A food processor fitted with a standard blade works well.
4) ‘Add 4 egg yolks and blend till the dough has the consistency of “loose toothpaste.” You might need to add 1 Tablespoon of milk if the mixture is “dry.”
Is “loose toothpaste” a patisserie term I’m just not familiar with? I had no idea how to apply this description to dough. I added another tablespoon of milk to make the dough “looser.” (After the previous 3 added in a vain attempt to get my blender blades moving.)
Texture note-I thought the finished gnocchi were “creamy” in the middle, in fantastic contrast to the butter browned crispy sides. My husband, however, found it “smooth” and “custard-like,” and therefore didn’t like it because custard makes him gag. Although he did say it improved (firmed up) once it cooled. My 8 year old didn’t like it because it tasted “doughy.” My three year old liked it, but then she likes most things. So depending on your texture preferences, you may want to stick with, ‘no more than one extra tablespoon of milk.’
5) ‘Transfer batter to a pastry bag with ½” wide tip or sturdy plastic bag with ½” corner snipped from the end. Refrigerate the dough for the time it takes to bring a large pot of water to boil.’
(Once I had a “dough,” I had to taste it. It was decidedly pasty, and only slightly better than plain cooked ramen noodles.) I spoon fed the dough into my pastry bag, thinking the tip was big enough, and of course it wasn’t. Instead of fat, happy gnocchi dropping into the gently simmering pot, I had fat little squirts of toothpaste. I transferred the batter to a ziploc with the corner cut out, and it worked perfectly.
6) ‘Work in batches, piping dough directly into simmering water. As they rise to the surface, remove them to a greased plate. You can cool and store them as long as overnight before finishing.’
As I wrestled with the gnocci, I was also reducing stock and thought it would be cool to cook the gnocchi in that instead of water. I still like the idea, but the stock had reduced so much that I had to start a big pot of boiling water just to finish.
7) ‘Before serving, brown gnocchi in 2 Tbsp butter. Finish with another Tbsp butter and fresh lemon juice. Garnish with grated Parmesan and fresh herbs.’
I debated on making a different sauce. I had visions of a roasted butternut squash based sauce, but I’m glad I didn’t. The simple flavors were perfect. I used a little fresh basil from my garden, and about a tablespoon of lemon juice. (The recipe tells you to finish with lemon juice, but doesn’t say how much.)
This meal would’ve been truly magical, if I hadn’t known (and done) all the work involved in the transformation. The good news is, I’m positive if I make it again, it won’t be such an ordeal. Hopefully these notes from the trenches help (and don’t scare you off.) I’m almost tempted to make it again just to see how much time, dishwashing, and dough I would save. Almost.