My friend Tina went to the back of her car and pulled out a large cookbook. It wasn’t just any cookbook, it was The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. Then she asked “Would you like this? I’m cleaning out some things. If not I’ll donate it to the library.” Sorry library. I couldn’t get “Yes, please!” out fast enough. The book is gorgeous. Really a coffee table book, more than a cookbook. When I accepted it I thought I’d probably never be able to make anything but I wanted to read it and drool over the images.
I was lucky enough to have lunch at the French Laundry in Yountville about 20 years ago. My now husband and I were living in San Francisco and made friends with another couple to go for lunch in October. Truthfully we tried to get in for dinner during the summer and were never successful. We called each morning and tried to get through for a 30 day out reservation. We’d take anything, and anything turned out to be lunch on Halloween. We were very excited. However the day before my car broke down and I was feeling like we’d better cancel. In our early twenties we probably didn’t have the $150 per person (it’s almost double that now!) to begin with, let alone a car repair bill. Thankfully my now husband said we were still going. If it hadn’t been for him, we’d have never gone. It was a wonderful experience. I still remember the dishes, the whimsical names, and the casual elegant style. I was excited to see some of those same dishes in the cookbook such as “Oysters and Pearls”, “Fish and Chips” and “Coffee and Doughnuts”.
Like me, my kids have been looking through the French Laundry Cookbook and are amazed. My daughter says “What’s this? ” on every page. My son loves to look at photos and ask “Can you make this? Or can we go to the restaurant?” When we go through the book I have a real appreciation for the art of cooking and an understanding why a meal at the French Laundry is $300+ and I try to explain this to my kids. There are recipes for vegetable powders which only use a small sprinkle on a dish. There are flavored oils for just a drizzle on a plate. Some recipes may have 4 or 5 other entire recipes as ingredients in the overall dish. Then I realized I don’t have to make an entire dish…
I actually went through looking at the recipes and seeing what I could make by breaking out ingredients or parts of a recipe. I’d usually mark anything I was planning on making in a cookbook by dog earring the page. Not this book. I took out a pad of stickies to make my marks. The thing I was most excited was gnocchi. I think because I’ve never made it before and the recipes don’t vary much. So why not be inspired to make French Laundry gnocchi?
It was wonderful. And while time consuming, it really was not hard to do. Plus this was very inexpensive. Heck I could’ve afforded to make this in college instead of plain baked potatoes. According to the book, the recipe makes about 200 small gnocchi, which when arranging only 6 on a plate in the restaurant goes a long way. It doesn’t go as long for a main dish for 4. I made about 100 but know mine are not as small and uniform as Mr. Keller’s. Next time I’ll double the recipe and make for my friend Tina and her family for a proper thank you (If we can ever coordinate a meal to enjoy together around our busy family schedules!)
The original dish in the cookbook is for “Warm Fruitwood Smoked Salmon with Potato Gnocchi and Balsamic Glaze”. I skipped the fish and fancy sauce and other components of the French Laundry dish and simply made the gnocchi.
French Laundry Gnocchi (this is paraphrased)
2 pounds Russet potatoes
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons kosher salt, or to taste
Preheat the oven to 35oF. Bake the potatoes for one hour or until completely cooked.
Split the potatoes, scoop out the flesh and press it through a potato ricer (I used a potato masher). Place the potatoes on a board or counter (I used a pastry board). Make a well in the center. Place a layer of about 1/2 cup flour in the well, add the egg yolks, then about 1/2 cup more flour and salt. Use a dough scraper to chop the potatoes into the flour and eggs. Try to do quickly (15 – 30 seconds) without overworkding the dough. Add more flour as necessary. Dough should be together and barely sticky. Shape into a ball.
Roll the ball of dough lioghtly in flour. Roll off a piece of dough and into a “snake” about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces and using your hands roll each piece into a ball. Roll the balls on a gnocchi paddle or back of a fork (yes, I used a fork) to create an oval shape with indentations.
(There’s a whole testing process he goes through with a single gnocchi to be sure the texture is right. It should float on top of lightly boiling water when done and not be mushy. If too mushy, add more flour to dough. Place the gnocchi in batches of about 30 in lightly boiling water. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl of ice water as they rise to the surface. Once they have cooled about 2 minutes, drain them on a kitchen towel. Continue until all gnocchi are cooked. Lay them on a single layer on parchment lined baking sheet and store in the refrigerator if cooking that day or in the freezer . They can be stored in well sealed bags in the freezer for several weeks. Cook them when frozen.
After boiling, I sauteed my gnocchi for 1 – 2 minutes in a pan with olive oil to get them a golden color, then served them over roasted chard and Brussels sprouts with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. My family was pretty impressed. Even my food photos look good, right? My kids were thrilled and even took left-overs in the thermos for school lunch the next day. Bolstered with confidence I’m going to plan my next recipe (or at least ingredient) from this lovely book. I’ll let you know…