An Endnote of Profiteroles
There aren’t many things that can be said with certainty in life. Things change, situations rarely stay the same and like I always say, you should never say never again. However, if there is one thing that probably remains unchanged it’s that a dinner ending in profiteroles is a dinner worth having and cherishing.
Ever since I started cooking, the thought of making profiteroles from scratch seemed like one of the most daunting things. I’ve often indulged in the perfectly baked choux pastry stuffed with vanilla cream or ice-cream and covered in dark chocolate sauce. Some time ago, I used to travel to Paris several times a year and every time I was there, I would go to this bistrot where they served the most scrumptious profiteroles ever; the best thing about ordering this dessert was that it came with a whole saucepan of hot chocolate sauce to pour over the perfect ice-cream filled pastry puffs, as much as you liked, no questions asked, no judgement passed.
As usual, I started building the menu for this dinner starting with dessert, namely the profiteroles. Since our guests were vegetarian, I further decided on gnocchi with basil and baby spinach pesto, introduced by a nice platter of oven roasted peppers seasoned with garlic and sheep’s cheese.
The recipes below are pretty easy to follow and they are not complicated. However, some of them require time. This was my first time making gnocchi and I was surprised to find out what a long time it takes to shape them, it actually took me over an hour (made bearable by a nice glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc). Also, if you don’t have a food mill, you’d better have some serious arm muscle, as pressing potatoes through a fine mesh sieve with the aid of two hands and a spoon is not an easy job. Needless to say, the effort was worth the while, as these gnocchi really turned out perfect and the pesto came out nutty and with just the right amount of garlic flavour, the perfect pair for my home-made pasta.
The dessert came along quite easily and quickly, you only need to plan your time so to allow the baked pastry to cool completely before filling and serving. As for the starter, it’s a breeze, a little chopping, a couple of lugs of olive oil plus oven time and voilà, it’s ready!
If you can’t be bothered to make all of the stuff I made for this dinner and you only want to pick one, I say go for the profiteroles, they are capable of turning a grey sky blue, I swear! But don’t just take my word for it, start making them!
Oven Roasted Peppers
600gr peppers, halved and seeds removed
2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat your oven at 225C/450F. On a tray lined with baking paper, arrange the peppers cut side up. Drizzle with the olive oil, distribute the garlic evenly, season with oregano, salt and pepper and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the flesh is tender and the surface is blistered. Transfer your peppers to a platter and serve with some nice sheep’s cheese or marinated white anchovies.
1 kg/2 lb small red potatoes (Franceline if you can find them or any other type of starchy potatoes)
Rock salt, a lot of it
350gr/1⅓ cup all purpose flour
½ tsp fine sea salt
2 small free-range eggs, beaten
Preheat your oven to 190C/390F. Wash the potatoes, dry them well with a towel and prick them all over with a skewer. Next, generously cover the bottom of a large baking tray with a layer of rock salt and place the potatoes on top. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through. Remove from the oven, leave to cool for a bit, then peel off the skin. It’s best to do this while the potatoes are still warm, even if it’s a bit painful.
Scatter 250g/1cup of the flour on a clean work surface and add the fine sea salt. With the aid of a spoon, push the potatoes through a fine sieve from elbow height, on top of the flour; make a well in the centre and add the eggs. Mix together with your hands, adding more flour if necessary, but stop as soon as the mixture comes together into a soft dough. Clean the work surface and dust it with a more flour. Return the dough to the surface and flatten it into a square about 1,5cm/½ in. thick. Divide this into 1,5cm½ in. wide strips, then roll with your hands into sausage shapes. Lay the ‘sausages’ side by side, and cut them into 1,5cm/½ in. wide segments. Dust them with flour, and roll each segment over the tines of a fork, pressing your thumb into the back, so you have an indentation on one side and grooves on the other. Put the finished gnocchi on a flour-dusted tray. Also, be patient, this process can take even up to an hour.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Tip in half the gnocchi and stir; wait for the gnocchi to rise to the surface, wait for three minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon, and put in a serving bowl. After you’re done with the second batch, pour your pasta sauce on top and mix.
Basil and Spinach Pesto
A handful of basil leaves, washed and dried
A handful of baby spinach leaves, washed and dried, stalks removed
50gr/3 Tblsp pine nuts, slightly roasted in a pan, until fragrant
2 cloves garlic
50gr/3 Tblsp shredded Parmesan cheese
100ml/1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
In the bowl of your food processor, put the basil, spinach, garlic and pine nuts and Parmesan and pulse 10 times until you reach your desired texture, I like my pesto chunkier. Add the olive oil and give it another couple of pulses. Presto pesto! Transfer to a bowl, cover with a little more olive oil to prevent from oxidation and put in the fridge until ready to use. It keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days.
For the choux pastry:
65g/½cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
57g/¼ cup unsalted butter
2 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
For the Egg Wash Glaze:
1 large free-range egg
¼ tsp salt
For the filling:
1 tub of vanilla ice-cream
Preheat your oven to 200C/400F. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. In a bowl, sift together flour, sugar and salt. Place the butter and the water in a heavy saucepan set over medium heat, bring to a boil. remove from the heat and with the aid of a wooden spoon, quickly add the flour mixture. Return to heat and stir continuously until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a thick smooth ball (1-2 minutes). Transfer the dough to your stand mixer, or with the aid of a hand-held mixer, beat on low speed for 1-2 minutes, until the steam is released from the dough. Once the dough is lukewarm start adding the lightly beaten eggs; continue to mix until you have a smooth, thick and sticky paste. With the aid of the spoon, shape 12 mounds of dough onto your baking sheet and space them a couple of inches apart. Beat together the egg and salt for the glaze. Gently brush the glaze on the tops of the dough. Pop in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180C/350 F. Bake for a further 30 minutes, until the shells become an amber color and when are dry inside. Turn the oven off and leave the door slightly ajar, keeping the shells inside to dry for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
For the dark chocolate sauce:
25og/10 oz dark chocolate chips or chocolate chopped with a serrated knife
250ml/1 cup heavy whipping cream, unsweetened and made from full-fat milk
2Tblsp unsalted butter
Place the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl. Bring the whipping cream and the butter to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes, afterwards stir with a whisk until smooth. Serve immediately.
To assemble the profiteroles:
Split the cooled choux pastry shells in half and fill the bottom halves with a scoop of ice-cream, and put the top back on. Bring the chocolate sauce to the table and allow everyone to drizzle their profiteroles as they wish. Enjoy!
*For further help on shaping gnocchi, feel free to check this tutorial out, it’s pretty great!