Marina di Chioggia Gnocchi

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.

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… 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!

Thai Food and Mexico Excitment

The crocuses are blooming! At home in Wisconsin this is the first sign of spring, but here it happens in the middle of winter. We’ve had some really nice weather the past few days, and I can almost trick myself into thinking it is spring… least until the next big storm comes through…..

A friend came to stay with us last weekend, and we made one of my favorite meals – Tom Ka Gai soup and Pad Thai. I make this meal quite often since we don’t have any decent Thai restaurants in the area, and sometimes I just have to have Thai food. Certainly my methods of preparation aren’t traditional – I just kind of made it up as I went, and considered myself successful when it tasted right.

This is my friend Melanie doing a beautiful job of cutting the Galangal Root (aka Thai Ginger) into chunks. It’s pretty fibrous stuff, and cutting it takes some real arm strength!

Here’s the finished soup. We started by sauteing the Galangal Root with Onions, Carrots, and Potatoes in a little Olive Oil until they were almost cooked, and then I added Chicken Stock. I also put in some Lemon Grass and a few Kaffir Lime Leaves (I have a Kaffir Lime Tree on my front porch, and a Lemon Grass plant in the living room, which is lucky since both are a must for this soup, and they’re impossible to find in any markets in this town.) As all that was simmering, Mel chopped up mushrooms, green onions, and picked the leaves off of a whole lot of cilantro as I fried the tofu. I usually use chicken for this soup, but since Melanie is a vegetarian, we made it with Tofu. It’s really just as good. I cut the Tofu into triangles and fried it in a whole lot of Olive Oil and a splash of Fish Sauce (kind of like Thai Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce is salty and made from fermented fish – it’s totally essential for Thai cooking.) When the veggies were tender, we added the Mushrooms, a can of Baby Corn, and half of the Tofu, the Green Onions, and the Cilantro. Then came two cans of Coconut Milk. This goes in at the end since it curdles if you cook it too much. The last step is to season the soup to perfection by adding Chili Garlic Sauce (very spicy!) tons of Lime Juice, and more Fish Sauce. Mmmmmm…. I was suffering from a cold, and this soup totally hit the spot. I just love the coconut/lime/spicy flavor!

Here’s the Pad Thai. This dish is really easy since I use Thai KitchenPad Thai Sauce. Someday, I’ll attempt my own sauce, but so far I haven’t had the time. Making the soup at the same time is enough! This Pad Thai is a mixture of Pad Thai noodles, Mung Bean Sprouts, Green Onions, Cilantro, Peanuts, Tofu (or chicken,) Eggs (we didn’t use any this time, but usually I do,) Pad Thai Sauce, Fish Sauce, Lime Juice, and Chili Garlic Sauce. It’s handy that both the soup and the Pad Thai have Green Onions, Cilantro, and Tofu – we just used the other half of what Mel had already chopped. The Pad Thai Sauce is pretty sweet – Tamarind Paste, Sugar, and Fish Sauce as the main ingredients. It’s great with lots of hot sauce added at the table!

We’re leaving this week for a two week Mexico adventure! I’m really excited, not least about the food. I love going to open air markets in Mexico and checking out all the exotic tropical fruits and veggies! Here’s a map of where we’re planning on going:

The plan is to fly into Cancun and then make a large loop through Chiapas, and then back. I have hotel reservations for the first two nights and a car rental reservation for the whole time, but that’s it. I want to keep most of it unplanned….a real adventure! I made similar trips with my family when I was five years old and again when I was fourteen, so I’m somewhat familiar with the area. We have a good road map and travel guide, so I feel comfortable trusting a lot to fate. We leave Thursday night – I can’t wait!