Before I began eating locally - and therefore seasonally - we ate quite a bit of convenience food: Thai take out, Whole Foods packaged Indian food, alphabet shaped french fries and frozen pizza. Nonetheless, I considered myself a fair cook. I could stir up a pot of pasta and top it off with a six dollar jar of spaghetti sauce. When pressed, I could make a savory tofu and veggie stir fry. For the most part, though, my cooking never ventured into fancier fare. I never veered from the dictates of a recipe without an hour's sojourn on the Internet to find a universally accepted replacement. Those days are over.
Cooking with the seasons is not for stiffs or cowards. Rigidly following recipes will get you nowhere as most available recipes are not seasonal - even if they claim otherwise. Substitutions must be made willy nilly - depending on what is in the fridge, the pantry, the garden. After a few months of cooking this way, recipes become vague suggestions for a "type" of meal. Fear of change evaporates as virtually every visit to the farmers' market or your CSA box ushers in or out some different produce. To cook seasonally is risky business.
Because I also undertook to write about our meals, in joining the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge, I couldn't cook the same thing all winter long. It had nothing to do with "appetite fatigue" and everything to do with pride. My little local salads were quickly trampled by the galettes, homemade pasta, and canapes of the dauntless Dark Day-ers.
Not to be outdone, I tackled more complex menus. By the time winter dissolved in a burst of Northern California asparagus and strawberries, I had became fearless. There is nothing (vegetarian) I won't make, nothing I won't try. I laugh in the face of processed food. I scoff at fast food joints and furiously take notes at better restaurants. I bake tarts with homemade butter, whip meringue cookies into the likeness of store bought ones, make my own tortillas and Spanish rice to avoid a trip to the taqueria and outdeliver the pizza man. I am a daredevil in the kitchen.
That is why I didn't think twice when I remembered a most memorable sweet potato gnocchi from my favorite vegan eatery. I surfed the Internet for ideas on how to put together gnocchi. Apparently, you can make this stuff from scratch instead of buying it shrink wrapped at Trader Joe's. Better yet, it is pretty simple to make and much tastier.
Using farmers' market sweet potatoes, slow sieved local ricotta, non-local Parmesan cheese, locally milled gluten free flours, fair trade organic brown sugar, and fair trade nutmeg, I assembled the gnocchi. After popping the little dumplings in boiling water until they bobbed to the surface, I caramelized them in a local butter and sage sauce and served them with farmers' market artichokes and asparagus roasted with local olive oil, salt and pepper.
Without risk, there is no reward . . . or at least no gnocchi.