Wednesday, October 21, 2009

conversations at the farmer's market

If Boston weather has a motto, it must be "carpe diem." Despite Sunday's freak snowstorm, this week's weather has been beautifully mild, and I've been using the clear afternoons as an excuse to spend extra time at the farmer's market. (I've decided that my writing assignments can wait - there will be more than enough nasty grey weather to keep me indoors in the coming months.)

I love the farmer's market for all the typical foodie reasons. I like the quality and seasonality of the produce. I like the variety, and I like knowing exactly where it comes from. But what I like best are the conversations.

Yes, I'm That Girl, the one who strikes up conversations with complete strangers about what they're going to do with the produce they're buying, and pipes up when someone wonders aloud what to do with kohlrabi or husk cherries. I also like to ask the farmers questions, because they're knowledgeable and excited about the produce they're selling. It's a welcome change from the supermarket, where the usual produce-related conversation is limited to explaining the difference between leeks and scallions to a bewildered cashier.

Apparently I'm also making the farmers hungry. I asked for a bunch of kale at a Copley Market stand the other day, and got into a discussion of the merits of dinosaur kale versus curly kale. I was told that the curly kale was excellent, very sweet, but I already had a specific dish in mind.

I explained to the farmer that I was making buttercup squash gnocchi, and that I was going to saute some sliced dinosaur kale until crispy, and then toss it with the gnocchi in a brown butter sauce. The farmer remarked that he'd picked up some great recipes from people shopping at the farmer's market, but what he really had to figure out was how to get invited to dinner.

I didn't have any ideas on that front. But I did pick up some pears for dessert. If I bring him a slice of pear tart, do you think I might get a discount on my squash next time?

Buttercup Squash Gnocchi with Brown Butter, Crispy Kale, and Caramelized Onions

These gnocchi are also good when made with sweet potatoes, though they won't be quite the same spectacular shade of yellow.

(Recipe for one. Makes enough gnocchi for four main course-sized portions; uncooked gnocchi may be frozen.)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Take a buttercup squash weighing roughly two pounds, hack it in half with a big knife or cleaver, and scrape out the seeds. Lay the halves cut side down in a baking dish, and pour in a little water (just a quarter-inch or so), but don't let it seep underneath the squash into the seed cavity. Put the dish in the oven. Bake for forty to fifty minutes, or until the squash is soft when you poke it with a fork.

Remove the baking dish from the oven, and move the squash halves to a cutting board. Allow to cool, then scrape out the flesh. It should have a fairly dry, floury texture. (If it's wet, you're going to need to put it in cheesecloth or a clean dishcloth and set it in a colander to drain before making the dough.)

Measure out three cups of the baked squash into a big mixing bowl. (You can have any extra squash as a snack with maple syrup and butter.) Mash with a wooden spoon until the texture is smooth, then beat in two tablespoons of olive oil and one large egg. Stir in one cup of flour. The dough will be soft and quite sticky. Resist the urge to add more flour.

Sprinkle two baking trays with flour. Clear off a section of counter space, and sprinkle it generously with flour too. Take a spoonful of the gnocchi dough and drop it on the floured surface. Roll it around to form a ball, and use a fork to press it on each side. Set the gnocchi on one of the baking trays. Repeat until you run out of dough.

(At this point, you can either cook the gnocchi immediately, or freeze them on the baking trays. Once they're fully frozen, they can be transferred to Ziploc bags.)

When you're ready to cook the gnocchi, clear off all your counters and ready several pans. This is a fairly straightforward recipe, but there is some assembly required.

Start with the brown butter: melt two tablespoons of butter over low heat and cook until golden brown and delicious-smelling. Transfer to a small bowl or heatproof measuring cup; set aside.

Cut a small onion into half-moons, and cook in a little olive oil in a large pan over low heat until soft and caramelized. Set aside. (Read: move the pan to one of your back burners. Leave the burner off, of course.)

Set a big pot of salted water on to boil.

Take a few leaves of lacinato (dinosaur) kale, washed to get rid of any lingering grit, and cut it crosswise into ribbons. Heat a splash of olive oil in a hot pan and add the kale. Sprinkle with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale darkens and turns crispy. Set aside.

Once the pot of water hits a rolling boil, drop in your gnocchi, ten at a time, and cook until they float to the surface. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, and put them in the pan with the caramelized onions.

Once you've cooked however many gnocchi you feel like eating, put the pan over low heat, and pour over the brown butter. Add the kale, and give the gnocchi a gentle toss to mix everything together. Tip the contents of the pan onto a plate. Top with plenty of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately.


Lisa said...

Wow, does that sound good. I am afraid to make gnocchi after one disastrous effort years ago. Love eating them, though. This is quite an ambitious meal! And what a color on those babies.

P.S. I've never before heard lacinato kale called dinosaur kale. That's cute.

adele said...

Lisa - The trick to making light gnocchi is to stir as little flour as possible into the dough, but use plenty of flour for shaping them. Are you sure I can't persuade you to give it another shot? :)

I'd never heard of "dinosaur kale" either, until I saw it labeled as such at the farmer's market. I guess it's a good description, and probably easier to remember than "lacinato."

Pam said...

You're hilarious - I'm That Girl too (got into a deep conversation about parsnips with a farmer the other day...)

adele said...

Pam - I'll bet it was an interesting conversation!

Jennifer said...


I've also been frequenting the farmer's markets lately, most times cooking everything I buy immediately. I have stumbled upon many interesting recipes that way, by just picking up a vegetable that looks interesting and trying to cook it in a different way. Farmers are normally a great resource when it comes to learning what to do with the food they're selling - I always ask and most have an opinion. So I guess, I, too, am "That Girl". I hope to see more of "These Girls" when I'm hanging out at the next farmer's market.

Eat well,

adele said...

Jen - I gave someone a recipe for celery root soup the other day. I was rather pleased with myself. :)

Jennifer said...

Adele, that's fantastic. I adore celery root and have just discovered a love of parsnips.

The crabapple rosewater jelly was so easy to make. If you'd like, I can give you a recipe for it. I'm still learning correct canning techniques, so some details might be a little hazy. Today I think I'll process the nectarines that I bought by canning them with orange blossom water (but you already know, because I tweeted it).

Tonight I'm going to attempt a lamb stew with the lamb that I just bought from Signal Rock (?) Farm in Davis yesterday. I'll let you know how it goes. Playing with some Middle Eastern themes lately, but still keeping the produce and meat local.

adele said...

Jennifer - Watch this space. I'm going to be making celery root ravioli with a ricotta, walnut, and Swiss chard sauce next week. :)

I like the idea of canning, but to be honest, I don't eat enough jam to justify it. :/

Jennifer said...

Oh that sounds lovely! I will definitely watch for the recipe. I'm going to suspend my personal blog and start a new one, which will focus almost exclusively on local and sustainable eating. I'll start posting recipes as well. I'm sometimes a very lazy cook, so I don't write anything down, even if something's fantastic. This has gotta change :) I'll let you know once it's up and running.

adele said...

Jennifer - Sounds good!

Julie said...

This sounds sensational. I've never made gnocchi and all last fall making squash gnocchi was on my list of things to do but it never happened. This fall it definitely will.

Re: the many names for Tuscan kale (which is what I call lacinato kale), the Gourmet Cookbook has a great line: "Be aware that lacinato has more aliases than a gangster on the lam."

adele said...

Julie - Your to-do list probably looks a little like mine. :)

Sounds like lacinato kale must be friends with arugula (aka rucola, ruchetta, rughetta, rocket...)

Jennifer said...

Haha! I wonder how many other vegetables could be called "gangster"?

Bethany said...

I'll have to try this at my sister's place (much better kitchen). We're always looking for produce-heavy vegetarian meals and this looks deliciously filling.

adele said...

Bethany - If you're looking for produce-heavy vegetarian meals, you can check out my archives. I do a great sweet potato and black bean stew, for example. :)

Bethany said...

The stew sounds great. I love sweet potato and black bean enchiladas so it would be a nice variation. Thanks for suggesting it!

Lindsey@pickyeatings said...

Yum, gnocchi is on my list of things to try. I wish I could spend time at farmer's markets, I'm sure it would be fun. And I don't blame the farmers for wanting to get dinner invites.

adele said...

Bethany - You're welcome!

Lindsey - Gnocchi are fun to make. Quicker than most pastas. :)

Cakelaw said...

This looks and sounds delicious!!!

adele said...

Cakelaw - Thank you!

Kelly said...

OOh, speaking of kale...a friend just showed me the most delightful recipe. Kale CRISPS. Have you heard? They taste like potato chips, in all seriousness, until you look down and are weirded out by the fact that you're eating something green and crinkly.

Very easy: just take kale, wash well and dry even better. Cut into smallish pieces and toss with olive oil and salt. Bake at 350 or so until they crisp up. And voila!!!

Thanks for the squash gnocchi recipe.

adele said...

Kelly - I have heard of the kale chips recipe, though I haven't tried it out yet. (I rather like eating kale raw. Does that make me weird(er)?)

Jennifer said...

Kelly, I just learned that recipe this week too! It's so good! I just sit in my kitchen eating "crisps" with no guilt, since, they're, like, no calories apiece. Adele, you should try it!

Foodichka said...

I made butternut squash gnocchi in college! Gawd, it was a lot of work, but sooo delicious. Maybe I'll give it another try...

adele said...

Foodichka - Buttercup squash or sweet potatoes have less moisture, softer skins, and are generally easier to work with. :)