It's been way too long since I've posted anything. I hate to admit it, but I'm just not as inspired to cook elaborate meals in the winter time. This time of year, other concerns tend to take center stage. Simple meals such as yams with feta cheese and salad or baked chicken and potatoes are all I've had the energy to create. Not that these things aren't delicious, they just don't seem exciting enough to blog about.
I have been consciously trying to limit my diet to season items. both in my professional and personal life I've been advocating eliminating hot weather veggies from one's menu. Zucchini, tomatoes, basil, bell peppers.....all these things are being trucked up from Mexico now. It just seems to me that we should enjoy them when they're at their prime close to home, and not bother with them when they're picked unripe and shipped such long distances. Not only does the shipping use unnecessary fossil fuels, but these things are way too expensive, and they just don't taste very good. There's plenty of things to eat that are seasonal if not local - chard, kale, salad mix, root crops, winter squash, kiwi, potatoes. All of these are delicious, and relatively inexpensive right now. All that said, I have been thoroughly enjoying the delicious Kent Mangos coming from Ecuador and Peru.....
A few weeks ago I finally summoned the energy to cook my Marina di Chioggia. I bought this squash way back in September. It was grown in Willow Creek, and weighed over 10lb. When I bought it it was all dark green, but as it's aged it's ripened into a dark orange color. Sitting on our dining room table for so long made it seem like a member of the family. I was a little sad to cut it up!
I didn't save any of the seeds, although maybe I should have. This would be a fun one to grow. Marina di Chioggia literally translates to "Chioggia Sea Pumpkin." Chioggia is the town in Italy near Venice where it came from - also the homeland of the Chioggia Beet. This squash is rare, but it's said to be one of the finest Italian heirlooms, and it's featured in Barbra Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Traditionally it is used for gnocchi (pronounced nyoki) or ravioli. A friend of mine lent me a wonderful book called The Complete Squash: A Passionate Growers Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes, and Gourds by Amy Goldman and Victor Schrager. It praises the Marina di Chioggia heavily and gives a recipe for gnocchi. I decided I had to try it.
Here's just half of it cooked. I could barely fit the whole thing in the oven! We ate about 1/8 of it plain with feta cheese and Annie's Goddess Dressing for dinner the night we cooked it. We eat this meal with either winter squash or yams almost once a week in the winter time. It's easy, hearty, and healthy. The Marina di Chioggia was really good - very sweet and rich with an almost carmel-y flavor.
Another aspect of winter at our house is the annual ant invasion. This may be part of the reason we don't cook as much: having to wipe ants off the counter before you begin cooking is just not that appetizing! I've done everything I could think of to get rid of them, but nothing seems to work. At least they have good taste - they really seemed to like the squash. This ant was trying to make off with a piece that was way too big for him.....it was pretty humerus to watch him teetering on the edge of the counter.
The next day we made the gnocchi. the dough was about the stickiest thing I've ever dealt with. It's a mixture of mashed potatoes, squash, flour, nutmeg, salt, and white pepper. You roll the dough out into ropes, cut them into bite-sized chunks, and then press them on the tines of a fork to create these shapes. This sounds simple, but the dough was so amazingly sticky, that we had a hard time of it. I doubled the recipe to use as much squash as possible, but we ran out of time and energy to make it all into gnocchi, so we froze most of it in it's raw dough form. We figured we could thaw it out and make gnocchi whenever we want to. The picture above is the gnocchi before it was cooked. It's covered with flour so as to not stick to itself or the pan.
From there it went into boiling water to cook. You cook it in small batches until it floats to the top of the boiling water and then for about 30 seconds more. The whole process of making the dough, forming the gnocchi, and cooking it took about 4 or 5 hours. It seemed like a whole lot of effort for what we got, but it was really good, and we have enough frozen dough to make many more meals. I suppose the first time making anything this involved is always going to be a challenge.....
This is the sauce I made for it. Spicy sausage, Arugula from the garden, walnuts, and cream. It was good, although the Arugula was really strong. I wasn't expecting it to be since I had cooked some a few weeks prior and we had marveled at how mild it was. I guess the older it gets the stronger it gets. It wasn't bad, but I wish I had used a little less Arugula.
Here's the Arugula patch last weekend. It snowed here, which is very unusual on the coast. Big, beautiful flakes fell for more than 2 hours at our house. I don't think it hurt anything since it melted pretty quickly, but it was fun to watch!
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