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Local Food: Herbed Gnocchi with Squash Pomodora Sauce

Chef Miguel Valdez in The Red Door's farm

“How many chefs have half an acre to work with?” asks Miguel Valdez, Executive Chef of The Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar in the Mission Hills district of San Diego, California. Among his many tattoos, he sports one on his forearm that reads “Bon Appetit,” making his commitment to food no secret.

With a menu built around local, organic, sustainable and ethically-sourced seasonal cuisine, The Red Door opens to an ever-changing menu of appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts crafted by Chef Valdez. He transforms what’s seasonally available into unique dishes like a fried cauliflower with savory ginger soy glaze, a garden chard and kale salad with warm bacon vinaigrette or pepitas-crusted Catalina Offshore fresh catch.

Trish Watlington at the entrance of her restaurant's farm fields.

To make this all possible, Trish and Tom Watlington, owners of The Red Door, have turned their property in nearby La Mesa into a small farm in 2011, now producing a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, small fruits and herbs 365 days a year, thanks to the area’s ideal climate. They harvest about 6,000 pounds of produce a year for the restaurant, likely among the top farmer-producers of any restaurant in the U.S.

What they don’t grow enough of to keep up with their needs, or for various meat and seafood items, they source locally from partners like Suzie’s Farm, Catalina Offshore or Stehly Farms. With eighteen partners in all (they’re all listed by name on the menu), there is no shortage of perfectly ripe or in season ingredients. Chef Valdez also hits local farmers’ markets accompanied by his son, too.

“Our guests understand what we get at the markets, from our farm, or partners – whether tomatoes, persimmons or beets. These ingredients will be on the menu,” explains Valdez. “The dishes will have a unique twist to them. I have to be creative. It keeps me learning.”

His Herbed Gnocchi with Squash Pomodora Sauce captures this mantra, blending the flavors, textures and richness of this popular Italian dish. Chef Valdez shares his recipe below. We can't wait to try it with fresh, in-season ingredients that we organically grow ourselves later this year.

Herbed gnocchi with squash pomodora sauce at The Red Door. 

Herbed Gnocchi with Squash Pomodora Sauce Recipe

Chef Miguel Valdez, The Red Door Restaurant, San Diego, California

For Herbed Gnocchi

Yield: serves 10

Ingredients:

• 1 ½  cups water
• 12 tbsp  (12oz) butter unsalted
• 2 cups flour
• 2 tbsp Dijon mustard (whole grain works too)
• 1 tbsp chopped chives
• 1 tbsp chopped parsley
• 1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
• 5 large eggs

Directions:

Mixing Gnocchi Dough

1. Set up a mixer with the paddle and have everything ready to go before you start.

2. Combine water and butter in a saucepan and bring to a full simmer.  Add the flour at once when simmering and stir well using a wooden spoon until the mix comes together and pulls away from the side. 

3. Transfer the mixture to mixer, adding mustard, chives and parsley and let mix for few seconds to incorporate.

4. Add cheese and mix again to incorporate.

5. On low speed, add one egg at a time and then increase speed to medium for a few seconds.   

6. Turn off mixer; if the gnocchi dough mixture is sticky, it’s ready.

Cooking Poached and Pan-Fried Gnocchi

1. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Then place dough in a piping bag (pastry bag), leaving a half-inch opening. Place bag over pot and start to squeeze dough out, cutting it as the dough comes out into 2-inch gnocchi. Depending on the size of the pot, you will put at least half the bag of dough in pot.

2. When the gnocchi start to float to the top of the water, pull them out with slotted spoon or spider. Place on sheet to dry; drizzle a little bit of olive oil over them so they don't stick.  Let cool.

3. To finalize the cooking of the gnocchi, have a hot non-stick pan with a teaspoon of oil. Pan fry small batches of gnocchi at a time until they are golden brown on all sides.

4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For Butternut Squash Pomodora

Yield: 1.5 quarts

Ingredients:

• 5 tbsp olive oil
• 12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
• 2 small (28-ounce) butternut squash
• 1 chopped onion
• 1 cup vegetable stock
• 2 1/2 tsp sugar
• Kosher salt
• 1 small bunch fresh basil (chopped)

Directions:

1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.

2. Add the onion, butternut squash and cook until softened but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic, vegetable stock bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened slightly, about 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in sugar, and season with salt, to taste.

3. Add all ingredients to blender and lightly pulse it.  Add fresh basil and mix in sauce for extra freshness.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently,9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10-kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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