A Snohomish chef charts a course to fresh and local cuisine

Whether he’s cooking or teaching, Cody Castiglia is committed to seasonal, local ingredients.

Squash gnocchi is tossed with bacon, goat cheese and greens. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Squash gnocchi is tossed with bacon, goat cheese and greens. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Cody Castiglia has embarked on a different path for a chef.

Instead of working full time at a restaurant, Castiglia, through his Della Terra business venture, is doing a little bit of this (catering and teaching cooking classes) and a little bit of that (a one-night-a-week dinner service at the Hungry Pelican, a rustic storefront at 113 Ave. C, Snohomish).

But whether he’s cooking or teaching, Castiglia, 27, is committed to using fresh, seasonal and local ingredients.

“I’m not having the Sysco truck pull up,” he said, referring to the giant food-services corporation. “I’m towing it if they do.”

In the same whole-foods spirit, Castiglia’s cooking classes, which he conducts in Woodinville and Bellevue, are intended to “empower people to cook with real food,” he said.

At this stage of his life, Castiglia’s not interested in the 80-hour workweeks that would be needed to establish his own restaurant, and he doesn’t want to work for somebody else.

“Teaching makes me able to work my own schedule,” he said.

Still, cooking is his livelihood — and it’s a family tradition.

Castiglia, a native of Buffalo, New York, comes from a family of cooks — his parents and grandparents both owned restaurants. After culinary and hospitality management school, he tried to work at the best places possible and learn from their chefs. Especially influential was a restaurant in Buffalo called CRaVing, he said.

“It launched my love for the kind of cooking I do now,” he said.

At his Friday dinner service in Snohomish, Castiglia’s menu is dictated by what’s seasonal.

“We source the freshest ingredients of the season,” he said. “While we may not have the abundance of produce now that we enjoy in the summer, we can still make delicious food. We use a lot of squash, root vegetables, a lot of dried beans and peppers as well. We make celery root sexy.”

The modest space seats 18 for Friday dinner service. Reservations can be made on Open Table by searching for “Della Terra” — Italian for “the earth,” by the way.

Local people who love local food are getting the message. On one Friday night, “half the people in the dining room knew the farmer” who had grown a key ingredient, Castiglia said.

Another time, the people who had butchered the animals on the menu dropped by to dine on their handiwork, he said.

One of Castiglia’s favorite dishes is squash gnocchi paired with bacon, goat cheese and greens. He says his wife, Lia, who works in retail management, requests this dish once a week at their home in Snohomish, just up the street from the Hungry Pelican.

The squash gnocchi uses ingredients that pair well together. For example, “Goat cheese and squash are best friends,” he said.

The dish can be a main course or side to roast chicken, Castiglia said. If you make more gnocchi than you can use, they freeze well. But don’t leave them in the fridge, where they will get gummy, he said.

Other tips: Use a bench scraper to cut the gnocchi and clean your floured work surface when you’re done. Also, slice your garlic very thin. Mashing it in a press results in nasty burned, bitter flavor, Castiglia said.

“Anthony Bourdain says he doesn’t know what comes out of a garlic press, but it sure isn’t garlic,” Castiglia said.

Squash gnocchi

This squash and gnocchi dish is tossed with bacon, goat cheese and greens.

For the gnocchi:

1 pound squash, preferably acorn or butternut

1 tablespoon garlic-infused oil

12 to 14 ounces potatoes, preferably Yukon golds, peeled and quartered

¾ cup finely grated Parmesan

1 large egg, beaten

1½ teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

1¾ cups (or more) Italian 00 flour or Nash’s Organic Soft White Whole Wheat Flour

For the bacon, goat cheese and greens:

2 medium spaghetti squash

1 tablespoon garlic-infused grapeseed oil or olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons local honey

1 pound spinach, washed and torn into bite sized pieces

4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled

For the gnocchi: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash lengthwise in half, discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut side up, on baking sheet and brush with oil. Roast until squash is lightly browned and very tender when pierced with a skewer.

Cool to room temperature. Scoop flesh into a food processor, puree until smooth. Transfer to a small saucepan, stir constantly over medium heat until juices evaporate and puree thickens, about 5 minutes. Cool. Measure 1 cup puree.

Meanwhile, cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through food mill into medium bowl; cool completely. Measure 2 cups of the riced potato.

Mix squash, potato, ½ cup parmesan, egg, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl.

Gradually add 1¾ cups flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by the tablespoonful.

Turn dough out onto floured surface, knead gently until smooth.

To knead the gnocchi, place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Fold the dough into itself, turning and pressing the dough down, working it into a smooth and supple dough. Knead as briefly as possible. If overworked, the dough will become too dense and tough, and will be difficult to roll.

Divide dough into 8 equal pieces with a bench scraper.

Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Working with one dough piece at a time, roll dough out onto floured surface to about ½-inch-thick ropes. Cut each rope into ¾ inch pieces. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets.

Repeat with remaining dough.

Cook in large pot of boiling salted water until gnocchi float and are very tender. Remove from water and drain.

For the bacon, goat cheese and greens: Preheat the oven to 425 and line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the spaghetti squash in half, scoop out the seeds and transfer to the baking sheet. Drizzle with the garlic oil. Season with salt and pepper, then flip the squash and season again.

Note: You can make your own garlic-infused olive oil by roasting cloves of garlic in the oil at a very low temperature until the garlic is fragrant and softened.

Roast in the preheated oven until the squash is tender, about 40-50 minutes. When the squash is done, let it cool for 10 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add the bacon slices. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, just until the very edges of the bacon start to brown slightly, about 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to low and continue to cook until the bacon is crispy and the fat has rendered out, about 5 more minutes.

When the bacon is done, turn the heat up to medium and add the cider vinegar while stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet. Turn the heat to low and add the honey. Stir everything together just to combine, then add the spinach. Stir to combine and remove from heat, so the spinach only wilts slightly.

Peel the skin away from the squash, then use a fork or your hands to pull the strands apart, adding them to the skillet as you go. When all of the squash is in the skillet, add the goat cheese and toss everything together to combine.

Gently toss gnocchi with bacon, goat cheese and greens. Serves 4 to 6.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the spring issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www. washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

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