Creative and delicious, this Parmesan gnocchi, crispy skinned trout and Shrek sauce comes courtesy of a talented chef in the making.
“I want to be a chef,” states Thomas Doherty (11). He’s wearing goggles as he slices onions. “A pilot rather,” chimes in his mom, Margot Janse (who also happens to be the award-winning executive chef of The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français). The blonde duo is in their sunny Franschhoek kitchen; three dogs weave around them (Dexter, Gypsy and Padkos), their paws clattering on the tiles.
Thomas is making us a favourite from when he was younger: Parmesan gnocchi with crispy skinned trout and the all-important Shrek sauce (a green pea sauce).
Thomas has always been surrounded by food; his dad Duncan Doherty is also a chef. Plus, he gets a masterclass daily from one of South Africa’s top chefs. “Thomas often sits at the kitchen counter doing his homework while I cook us dinner,” says Margot.
Thomas is something of an adventurous eater. He’s been eating sushi for most of his life and even oysters while he was still a toddler. This willingness to try interesting foods is in part thanks to Margot’s approach. “It’s about making food fun for kids,” she explains. “I would ask him what colour mash he wants [butternut mash for orange] or I’d put ‘snow’ on his food [finely crumbed feta].”
“The most important thing to remember when cooking is to keep it clean,” instructs Thomas like a seasoned chef as he wipes down the counter. He pushes potatoes through a sieve with visible effort. Does the hard work of being a chef put him off? “No,” he replies simply. “I would love to work in The Tasting Room. He has once before – when he was smaller, he helped make crunchies in the pastry section. He also pitched in more recently to help the kitchen team make 2 000 cupcakes destined for a local charity.
This isn’t the first time he’s shown off his cooking skills to an audience. He has made sushi for a school show and tell. Soon he’ll be exhibiting his Dutch heritage (Margot was born in Holland) at the school food fair where he’ll be preparing traditional dishes like poffertjes and stroopwafels. Margot has spoken Dutch to him since the day he was born and he can speak the language fluently. Thomas and his maternal granny communicate only in Dutch.
Thomas describes himself as “awesome, cool and natural” and his favourite subjects at school are Maths and Integrated Studies. He plays cricket, hockey and the piano too. He scoops the potato dough deftly onto a spatula, cradling the top with another spatula as he transfers it to the mixing bowl. It’s a neat little trick. “Yay! I invented something,” he grins. He’s juggling a couple of things as he plates the dish, all the while keeping things tidy. “See, men can multitask,” he quips.
The finished dish is stunning – the pink of the fish complements the green sauce beautifully, and it’s delicious, of course. I tell him this, and he looks over at his mom with a wink: “Thanks. I learned from the master.”
Parmesan gnocchi, crispy skinned trout and Shrek sauce
- 500g potatoes
- 200g rock salt
- 2,5ml (½ tsp) fine salt
- 65g Parmesan, grated
- 65g flour + extra, to dust
- 1 egg
- 15ml (1 tbsp) chives, chopped
- 15ml (1 tbsp) butter
- 1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
- salt, to taste
- 500ml (2 cups) milk
- 400g frozen peas
- 15ml (1 tbsp) cream cheese
- 15ml (1 tbsp) toasted hazelnuts, crushed
- 15ml (1 tbsp) ready-made crispy onions (available at woolworths.co.za)
- 15ml (1 tbsp) flat-leaf parsley, chopped + extra, to garnish
- 15ml (1 tbsp) canola oil
- 600g lightly smoked trout fillet, skin on (cut into 4 portions)
- salt, to taste
- 1 lemon wedge, to squeeze
For the gnocchi, preheat the oven to 200˚C. Place the rock salt on a small roasting tray and place the potatoes on top. Roast in the preheated oven, 45 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.
Place a sieve over a bowl. Cut the roasted potatoes in half and place cut-side down in the sieve. Fold a dry cloth and use it to push on the skin side of the potatoes, so as to let the cooked flesh mash through the sieve. Weigh out 300g of the potato. Add the fine salt, Parmesan, flour, egg and chives to the potato and mix with a rubber spatula until just combined. If the consistency seems sticky, add a little more flour.
Dust a surface with flour and roll a piece of the gnocchi dough into a sausage shape. Have a flour-dusted tray at hand, cut the sausage into 2cm pieces and transfer the gnocchi pieces to the tray.
For the Shrek sauce, melt the butter in a medium pot, add the onion and the garlic and fry over medium heat until the onion is soft. Season to taste and add the milk. Once the milk reaches a boil, add the peas and bring back to boiling point. Remove from heat and blitz until very smooth, using a stick blender. Place a sieve over another pot and strain the sauce by pushing the pea mixture through the sieve with a spatula.
For the garnish, place the hazelnuts in a small oven tray and toast in the oven at 180˚C, 10 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool and crush using a flat plate, pushing down on the nuts or using the flat side of a knife. Toss the crispy onions and parsley through and set aside until needed.
For the trout, place a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and add the canola oil. Dry the skin side of the trout on paper towel. Season the skin to taste and place skin-side down in the hot frying pan. Shake the pan a little to make sure the skin does not stick. Fry until the skin is crispy, 5 minutes. Quickly flip the trout over and remove from pan. Squeeze some lemon juice over the trout.
In the meantime, bring a pot of salted water to a simmer. Place the gnocchi in the water. Simmer until the gnocchi starts to float, a few minutes.
Warm up the Shrek sauce in a separate frying pan, add the cream cheese and whisk until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly. Drain the gnocchi and add to the Shrek sauce. Do not boil the sauce as this will make it discolour.
To serve, divide the gnocchi and sauce among 4 bowls and sprinkle with the garnish and extra parsley leaves. Place the crispy skinned trout, skin-side up, atop.
Thomas's gnocchi tips: Always make sure your hands are clean. Use a sieve. Don't over mix. Make them and eat them straight away (don't keep any for later). Work with flour on your hands and on the counter.