I’m often asked what my culinary specialty is. It’s a difficult question to answer. My business, which offers in-home cooking classes and personal chef services for dinner and parties, requires me to accommodate many requests. Some clients want nothing more than to learn how to make authentic Italian pasta while others want to learn how to fold the perfect shrimp dumpling. Dinners and parties require similar flexibility. Some clients want traditional Southern dishes while others want to recapture the tastes of a trip to the south of France or the Thai-inspired mussels they enjoyed at a restaurant in New York. I love the freedom and creativity that catering to any and all requests brings to my work, but if I had to focus on one cuisine it would have to be French cooking.
Disciplined and rich in tradition, I’ve long had a love affair with French cooking. For our first Christmas, my husband gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That winter, I lived in the kitchen and we ate fish drenched in cream sauces, gratineed seemingly everything, and ate course after delicious course as I cooked my way through the book. Inspired by the food, we also indulged in the wine; learning the varieties of Burgundy and Bordeaux and pairing different wines with each course. It was a delicious way to start off a marriage and that summer, after I had committed to leaving my job to attend culinary school, my husband celebrated my decision with a gift of the French classic and weighty tome, Larousse Gastromique. My affection for it can be seen in the splattered-pages and worn cover.
Five years later, weary of eating French food in our North Carolina kitchen, we celebrated our anniversary in Paris. Over four days we ate our way through patisseries, cafes, and even a Michelin-starred restaurant. We came home with full bellies and suitcases stuffed with escargot platters, brioche tins, and in a nod to that first year of marriage, a copper pan perfect for gratins.
Nowadays, with a one-year old in tow, we don’t have many multi-course French meals, but when I have the time I love nothing more than experimenting with classic dishes. Recently a favorite client of mine has had me prepare some special lunches for him and his friends. Like me, he is a lover of French cuisine and I developed this recipe of Parmesan gougéres stuffed with Mushroom Duxelle and served atop a Parmesan Mornay for his special luncheon. While it may seem like a lot of effort for a first course, it’s a very special way to begin a meal and was the perfect precursor to a main course of poached salmon with gribiche and a simple green salad. Happy cooking!
Parmesan Gougéres – Printer Friendly Recipe (includes all recipes)
Makes about a dozen large cheese puffs
2/3 cup water
3 ½ tablespoons safflower or canola oil
¼ tsp salt
2/3 cup bread flour
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of cayenne
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small saucepan, bring the water, oil and salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the bread flour using a wooden spoon. As you stir a dough will form that will pull away from the sides of the saucepan. Once this happens, keep stirring for two or three minutes to try to cook off any excess water from the dough.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and place the dough in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process for 15 seconds with the feed tube open to allow steam to escape. Add the eggs and egg whites all at once and process for 30 more seconds. Add the cheese, parsley, garlic, and cayenne and process just until ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the dough
Fill a piping bag with the cheese dough and pipe out golf-ball size mounds, about 2-inches in diameter, on the lined baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes and then pierce each gougére with a toothpick or skewer and place them on wire racks. Place the wire racks with the gougéres atop the baking sheet and return them to the oven. Immediately turn off the heat. Allow the oven door to remain ajar for 10 minutes to allow the insides of the gougéres to dry out.
While the gougéres bake, make the Parmesan Mornay sauce and mushroom duxelle as directed below. To serve, spread a spoonful or two of mornay sauce on a warm plate. Cut the top third of a gougere off with a serrated knife. Fill the bottom portion with mushroom duxelle. Set the filled gougere atop the mornay and lay the top of the gougere against the bottom. Sprinkle additional parsley and duxelle over the dish as desired.
Allow unused gougeres to cool and then freeze in an airtight container.
Parmesan Mornay Sauce
Makes about 2 ½ cups
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups flavored milk (recipe follows), warmed
1 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, over medium heat, for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Make sure to scrape the corners of the saucepan with a spoon as you stir.
Whisk in the warmed milk to the roux. Continue whisking while slowly heating the mixture until it begins to slowly bubble and thicken. Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the cheese. Season to taste with salt and ground white pepper.
Makes 4 cups
Bechamel sauce and its derivatives, like mornay also known as cheese sauce, often call for flavored milk. This refers to adding an onion cloute (a small quartered onion with a bay leaf attached by a clove) and a few black peppercorns to milk and then scalding it briefly. The onion cloute and peppercorns infuse the milk with flavor, but should be removed before using the milk in the recipe.
4 cups whole milk
1 onion cloute (a small quarter of an onion with a bay leaf attached by a clove)
8 whole black peppercorns
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat gently until bubbles form in the milk around the edge of the saucepan. Remove from heat and remove the onion cloute and peppercorns before using as directed in the following recipes.
Makes about 1 ¼ cups mushroom filling
If you are looking for a little controversy, ask some chefs how you should prepare your mushrooms for cleaning. Some will balk at the use of water suggesting instead that only a brush and a damp paper towel should be used to remove any residual dirt, while others will say that a brief rinse under water won’t do any harm. I typically use a damp cloth to clean my mushrooms, but on a busy weeknight I’ve often rinsed my mushrooms under cold running water and the world has not ended.
1 lb baby bella mushrooms, cleaned, ends trimmed, caps and stems finely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
¼ cup dry sherry
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh flat leaf parsley, optional
Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet. Add the shallots and mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the sherry and continue to stir until it reduces. Season the mushrooms to taste with salt and freshly ground white pepper.
If using the mushroom duxelle to fill the gougeres, toss with the minced parsley and then assemble as directed.