Marina di Chioggia Gnocchi (again).

Probably not many people following this blog will remember the post from a few years ago in which I made gnocchi from a Marina di Chioggia squash. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the experience. Marina di Chioggia (which literally translates to Sea Pumpkin from Chioggia) is a beautiful Italian heirloom squash from Chioggia, a seaside town which is also the homeland of the Chioggia Beet and I'm sure lots of other delectable things. This squash is traditionally used to make gnocchi, so of course I couldn't help but attempt it when I was fortunate enough to get a hold of one.

My first attempt at gnocchi was good but frustrating. It took forever to make and I ran out of time and ended up freezing the majority of the dough thinking that I would defrost it and form the gnocchi as I wanted it. Wrong. A year later, I finally pitching the freezer burnt gnocchi dough..... not good. I was so frustrated by the sticky, time consuming process that I didn't take the care I should have on the sauce, and it ended up overpowering the delicate flavors of the gnocchi.

So, since I successfully grew two beautiful Marina di Chioggia squash in my garden this year I decided to try again. The occasion is my Mom's birthday dinner. I'm hosting a family dinner for her next weekend, and I'm planning an elaborate menu (what better do I have to do on these cold winter days?) I knew that making gnocchi would be a time consuming endeavor so I decided to make it and freeze it (formed, but uncooked) the weekend before. All I'll have to do on the night of the dinner is dump the frozen gnocchi into boiling water and let it cook.

This is the larger of the two I grew. It's not as warty as other Marina di Chioggias I've seen, but it is nicely formed and very heavy. I harvested it in early October and it's been sitting on the kitchen table ripening and looking pretty ever since. These squash are great keepers and turn from a dark dark green to a orangey purpley color as they ripen.

It had the prettiest curlicues coming off its stem.

The inside held an extremely firm flesh with a beautiful deep orange color. Just the way it should look! I'm always a bit amazed that something I grew could turns out so perfect. It doesn't always happen, but the times that it does make it all worth it.

The seeds and stringy innards went to the chickens who made short work of them. I drizzled a little local sunflower oil on the quarters and roasted them at about 375 degrees. Normally I would roast squash like this with the flesh down to try and keep as much moisture in as possible, but in this case I wanted them to dry out to make the gnocchi dough more manageable.

Along with the squash I baked these three local potatoes.

The potatoes took a little longer than the squash, but after an hour or so everything was nice and tender.

I peeled the vegetables and pureed them in the food processor, which gave me this nice creamy puree.

Here's where things started to get sticky. I added 2 eggs and seasoned the squash puree lightly with white pepper and fresh nutmeg and then started adding flour. I remember this part well from my last gnocchi experience - the dough is STICKY! I was more prepared this time and I managed to keep things relatively under control, although my hands were way too coated with dough to take any pictures. The key, I found was to coat everything that the dough would touch in flour - my hands, the board, the bowl - everything.

After adding a lot of flour, I ended up with a sticky dough that I could roll into ropes, like shown. I covered my hands and the board with flour and carefully separated a piece of dough from the large mass, then rolled it into a rope, cut that rope in half and rolled that, cut that in half and rolled that until I ended up with a rope about 3/4 inch in diameter.

Usually, you would use a fork and press a pattern onto the gnocchi. I have a really good Italian cookbook that makes no mention of this step, so I decided it would be acceptable to skip it. I ended up with these nice plump little pieces.

I didn't want them to freeze into one big lump, so I layed them out in a single layer on a cookie sheets and put them in my chest freezer for a half hour to start freezing. Then they went into freezer bags and back into the freezer. I didn't have either the pans or the freezer space to do this in one batch, so I ended up rolling and freezing it in 3 large batches. The whole process took about 4 hours and I ended up with 6 quart bags full of really nice looking gnocchi and a sore back from hunching over the pastry board. 6 quarts is way more than what I'll need for next week's dinner and will be the basis of many easy weeknight dinners to come.

Here's the recipe. Pictures of the finished cooked gnocchi will be in the next post that covers the rest of Saturday's feast!

Marina di Chioggia Gnocchi

1 Medium Marina di Chioggia Squash
Good Oil
3 Russet Potatoes
2 Eggs
White Pepper
Nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
4 cups of flour or more

Preheat oven to 375. Cut the squash open and remove the seeds. Drizzle with oil and roast squash side up until tender (about 45 minutes to an hour.) In the same oven, bake the potatoes whole until tender. Chances are the potatoes will take longer than the squash. Let the squash and potatoes cool. When they are mostly cool, peel them and puree them together in a food processor until very smooth. Transfer the puree to a large mixing bowl and add the eggs and seasonings. Season this lightly - you don't want to drown out the flavor of the squash!

Start adding flour a little at a time until you have a less sticky dough. I recommend starting the mixing with a spoon and then dumping it out onto a floured board and using your hands when it gets too sticky. When the dough is manageable, start rolling the gnocchi.

On a well floured board, roll a chunk of the dough into a sausage shape. Cut it in half and roll one of the halves. Repeat until you have a rope about 3/4 inch thick. Cut this rope into 1/2 - 1 inch sections and put them onto a floured cookie sheet. Repeat this rolling until all the dough is gone.

To cook, dump the gnocchi into boiling salted water. It will sink to the bottom at first, but after a few minutes will float to the top. Wait 30 seconds after it starts to float, then drain and serve. To freeze, lay uncooked gnocchi on a floured cookie sheet in a single layer and put in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Take out of the freezer, put in freezer bags, and freeze.

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As you can see, I've had to put my bully chicken, the big bad Wheaten Marans, into solitary confinement. She was pecking the other hens badly and I observed her more than once eating the other girl's feathers (this is a bad habit that can be the result of a protein deficiency, but in this case I think it's just boredom).

She's now in a dog crate in the basement. We brought her in on Friday night. At first she was really pissed, and would squawk to high hell and try to rush the door whenever I came down to feed her. Today she seems to have resigned herself to her fate, which is good. I like to think that she's contemplating the direction her life has gone and resolving to reform herself, but I know that's just personification. The plan is to keep her separated for a few more days, and then hopefully when I reintroduce her to the flock she'll have lost her standing in the pecking order and the bullying will stop. We'll see.

In the meantime, the other chickies have been having fun with this cabbage tether ball that I made for them. Just a few days ago this was a fully formed, very firm cabbage. Today it's a pecked shell. I'm planning to make another one to put out for them tomorrow.

I've also been giving them other treats and human food leftovers in the hopes that they'll get distracted and stop pecking at another. Here, you can see Blondie enjoying the out of season cantaloupe that was the garnish on my plate at breakfast this morning. I've also given them beef bone leftovers from making stock, and the cold remains of a Friday night fish fry in addition to their regular vegetable scraps and black oil sunflower seeds. Who knew that chickens love cold french fries?

So far things seem to be going well. the girls with the worst bald spots from pecking have new pinfeathers developing. Now we'll just have to wait and see what happens when the Wheaten returns......
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Chickens in the Snow

As you can see, the chickens finally went outside this weekend! It was about time - they'd been cooped up since the beginning of December when we got our first snow. They seemed to be deathly afraid of it even though I shoveled out a section of their run.

I got them to go outside by dumping a bag of bedding on top of the snow and sprinkling black oil sunflower seeds on top. That got them out quick They just love sifting through pine shavings looking for the seeds. They're like chicken candy!

On Friday I noticed the Welsummer's tail was a little scraggly. On closer inspection I could see a patch of bare skin. In the next few days I noticed my other hens were getting torn up around the base of their tails. My first thought was that they were getting claustrophobic and pecking each other. I posted some questions on the message board at Backyardchickens.com asking what to do about pecking, and someone mentioned that perhaps they have mites...... I hadn't thought of that. I tried to find pictures of mite damage online and convinced myself that they had a bad case of the mites.

I went out on Sunday morning to find my favorite hen (the red Sussex affectionately named Red Hen) bloody by her tail. Whatever the case, something had to be done! I put her in the basement with some food and water so that none of the hens could peck at her and went to get some supplies.

For the coop I got an all natural enzyme spray called "Poultry Protector". It's supposed to get rid of mites. I cleaned out all the bedding from the coop (so much for the deep litter method!), sprayed everything down, sprinkled diatamacious earth everywhere, and put new bedding down. The hens disliked the process, but they were really happy with their new digs when it was all done.

For Red Hen I got some Blue Kote - a gooey blue substance that helps clean and seal wounds. It dyed her hind-feathers a very becoming shade of purple!

I also got this 3 gallon feed trough and filled it with sand, a little potting soil, and more diatamacious earth. Right away, they started vying for dust baths. Perfect!

Today they seemed really happy to be outside but it was impossible to tell whether their feathers were growing back. These three are the worst off. Red Hen is on the right, one of the black Copper Marans is in the middle, and the Welsummer on the left.

This is the better off of the Black Coppers. Her tail doesn't have any bare spots, but it's still pretty mussed.

The other Black Copper is a little worse off.

The only one not affected is the Wheaten Marans.

The Welsummer is the first one I noticed, and seems to be worst of them all.

She's got a pretty large bald spot, although she manages to hide it pretty well with her wings and tail.

Once again, the perfect Wheaten. Not a feather out of place!

Notice anything fishy in this picture? The Wheaten is the closest to the camera and is in the act of pecking Red Hen's hindquarters! This afternoon I witnessed her making the rounds and pecking all of the hens on their butts - right where the feather damage is. It was the first time I'd seen this behavior, but it certainly was incriminating!

Not mites? I'm not positive, but it's seeming likely that it's a bully chicken instead. I'll have to watch carefully in the next few days to see how things develop. Diagnosing chicken problems is hard!

The Wheaten is quite a bird. She's the biggest, healthiest, and lays the most beautiful eggs. If I didn't know better I'd say she has an ego problem! If she really is the bully, I'm hoping that access to the outdoors will help things, and I'll try giving them some other chicken "toys" to distract her. If that doesn't help, she may have to spend some time in chicken jail (aka. a large cardboard box in my basement).

Here's the egg she layed today. One of the most lavender I've had from her yet. You can see how big it is - the others are a nice large size, but hers dwarf them.

The lavender stain on her eggs is really neat - this is what it looks like when it gets wet. The lavender comes right off and you can see the dark mahogany egg underneath. The lightly speckled egg is from one of the Black Copper Marans, the brown one underneath is from the Welsummer, and the light one belongs to the Buff Sussex.
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Kielbasa with Winter Brassicas

Winter meals are sometimes very monochromatic, and this one was no exception - white white and white. The colors may have been pale, but the flavors were diverse and satisfying: local kielbasa sausage, homemade sauerkraut, and fried turnip patties.

This meal took about 25 minutes to prepare and left me wondering why eating local food in the winter is hard for some people - nothing could have been easier or more tasty on a January evening.

Kielbasa from Willow Creek Farm. This is a traditional Polish sausage, made with their delicious pastured Berkshire pork. I think I'm going to have the opportunity to visit this farm and their new processing facility later this month. I'll be sure to take pictures.

I put the sausage in boiling water to begin cooking, and then turned my attention to the vegetables.

thought I was going to make potato pancakes, but I remembered at the last minute that I'd given the 5lb bag of potatoes to Dave when he moved out. All had for roots were the beets I grew this summer and these two turnips, the last of my backyard crop. Not too pretty, but they were still firm, so I decided to give them a shot.

Peeling them revealed two snowy white orbs with a nice crisp turnip-y flavor. Turnips are not usually one my favorite root vegetable, but I like them every once in a while - especially if I grew them myself!

I shredded them and squeezed as much of the water out as I could.....

.... added one egg, some salt and pepper, and a tiny bit of nutmeg and mixed it all up on the board.

I made three little patties of them, and started them frying in local sunflower oil.

I was a little nervous that they wouldn't hold together, but the egg did it's job and they held relatively well. As they began to cook and brown they filled the house with a delicious odor. Suddenly I was feeling like I liked turnips very much.

When the patties were close to done I took the cooked sausage out of the boiling water and added it to the skillet for a few minutes to brown the skin.

There you have it: A delicious local sausage, surprisingly delicious turnip patties (with a dollop of sour cream of course), and homemade sauerkraut. The texture and flavor play between the turnips and the sauerkraut was interesting: two shredded brassicas, prepared in vastly different ways with vastly different flavors and textures. All in all a very pleasing winter meal!

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Venison Stew on a Cold Winter's Night

Here's the view from my kitchen window. Actually, there's a lot more snow now that what you see here - we got 5 inches or so today and it's still coming down. The stubborn chickens still haven't ventured out of their coop since the first snow fell. They seem content to stay inside, where they're eating a lot of food and laying a lot of eggs. We've had some bitterly cold days here with highs of 10 degrees or lower, so I can't say I blame them.

The big news is that Dave moved out this week, exactly a year to the day from when I arrived from California and moved in with him. He's graduated from school and moved on to his own house. Living with my little brother has been a blast. It's an experience I won't ever regret and I think we'll be closer in later years because of it. That said, it's very nice to have this little house all to myself! There's a good chance that Stanley will move in in the spring, and though I am very excited about that, I'm also planning to make the most of a few months to myself.

I know a food blogger is supposed to make a big deal of the holidays, but obviously Christmas slipped right by without a peep from the Good Food Muse. I generally find holidays like this to be too busy and hectic to blog. Taking pictures and finding the time to write seems like an unnecessary stress in the middle of a fun but nevertheless stressful time. Blogging is supposed to be fun, not a burden! Needless to say, I had a wonderful holiday and ate lots of delicious food.

This is the story of a meal I made a few days ago for Dave and Stanley. Venison stew, pumpkin pie, and a Jerusalem artichoke and citrus salad.

This venison roast was not the most appetizing cut of meat I've worked with, at least not initially. The deer was butchered by Stanley's father and brother. They did a nice job, but it's definitely different working with meat like this compared to a roast from a professional butcher. It took a while to cut the white gristle and sinew away....

One I did, the meat suddenly looked a lot better, beautiful even! This venison has a vibrant deep red color to it that I really like. It's incredibly lean, and chock full of iron and other good stuff.

The meat got cubed and I browned it with a little local sunflower oil. I've switched almost entirely from olive oil to sunflower oil. It's really tasty, and it's just wonderful to have a local oil to work with!

Steamy browning meat.

I was going for straight traditional stew, nothing fancy: local carrots, onions, and potatoes did the trick. I seasoned it with dried thyme, a tiny bit of garam masala, and cayenne.

For the liquid I pulled this bag of tomato sauce out of the freezer. It is so nice to have these frozen goodies saved from the summer!

I added the tomato sauce, a little local apple cider, and water to make a thick liquid and cooked the sucker on low for a few hours. It was really really cold out (close to zero F), and the aroma of the stew bubbling away was the most delightful thing I can imagine. Winter's not so bad when you've got something like this on the stove!

This is the last of the Winter Luxury Pumpkins I grew. I had roasted it a few days prior (with a bit of sunflower oil of course!). It was getting a little soft, and wasn't in the best shape. I had a feeling the flesh would be stringy, but I decided to make a pie anyhow.

If you follow this blog you know that I usually make everything from scratch. This is an exception. We make these pie crusts at the Co-op. They're made from organic flour, and at $3.49 for two, are a steal. I am terrible at pie crust, so I gave in this time and just bought two..... some day I will work on my pie crust and never buy one ever again. Some day, but not today.

I had some crumbles leftover from the brittle I made for Christmas (this was the second batch that included maple syrup, apple brandy, hickory nuts, and bacon.) I pressed it into the pie crusts to add an extra flavor dimension.

Through the magic of the food processor and the addition of eggs, condensed milk, and spices, my pumpkins were transformed into a smooth custard, just perfect for pie. For the first time, I didn't use a recipe for pumpkin pie - I used the whole pumpkin without measuring and intuitively added the right amount of eggs and spices. It worked! I poured it into the pie crusts and started the pies baking.

Every meal needs something fresh and crunchy. I don't care that it's January. These local Jerusalem artichokes provided just the crunch I was looking for and were the base for my salad.

I am generally a locavore. Last winter I barely bought any produce that came from outside the state. I've been avoiding California fruits this year too, but I broke down last weekend and bought a bunch of citrus. I couldn't help it. It's citrus season, and I just can't bear to miss it entirely. This Meyer lemon was one of my choices.

The tangerine selection was pretty limited at the Co-op. What I really wanted was a Page mandarin or a Fairchild tangerine - something with a lot of bold citrus flavor, not just a one dimensional sweet and/or tart flavor. I ended up with this minneola tangelo. The produce manager recommended it to me, and I wasn't thrilled but I wasn't disappointed either. It did make me realize that 6 years in California as a produce buyer must have turned me into a citrus snob.

Anyhow, here's the salad I put together. The last of the local Honeycrisp apples, Jerusalem artichokes, minneola, walnuts, and Meyer lemon juice. I added a tiny bit of mayo to make it creamy. When it was done, I was impressed with myself - it was delicious and had just the right combination of flavors and textures.

Speaking of delicious, here's the finished stew. I tasted it at the end and decided to add a bit more apple cider and some apple cider vinegar. It turned out flavorful, hearty, warming.... everything a stew should be.

The pies also turned out well. I wasn't completely happy with the texture of the pumpkin - I should have used it sooner. It was fibrous, but the flavor and a big dolop of whipped cream made up for it. We ate almost a whole one betweeen the three of us, and unfortunately I left the other pie out overnight. As much as I wanted to, my food safety training dictated that we not eat it after sitting out so long. Damn. At least it will give the chickens a delicious meal!
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