Chicche con cicale di mare
Little Gnocchi with Sea-Grasshopper

Chicche con cicale di mare | Small gnocchi with "sea-grasshoppers"

This dish isn’t a common one, but it introduces two elements that might confuse you on an Italian menu.

Chicche are very small gnocchi, sometimes called gnocchetti. Pronounce it “Kee-kee-eh”. These little gnocchi are very common in northern Tuscany, but occur throughout Italy. Usually made with potato, they are often served with seafood (frutti di mare).

In this dish the sauce is made of canocchie or cicale di mare (seafood often has different names when procured in different regions). In any case, cicale di mare has very “sweet” tasting tail meat which unfortunately is very sparse, but the shells have abundant flavor. The scientific name of this crustacean is Squilla mantis, sometimes called (you’re not squeamish, are you?) “Sea-Grasshopper”.

The sauce is tomato-based with garlic, olive oil and parsley (prezzemolo) plus a “fumetto” made of the shells, meaning a broth in which the shells are gently sauteed in olive oil and then wine and water is added until the flavor is extracted into the liquid. In rustic presentations as you’ll find in a rural trattoria, the process of removing the meat from the shells might be eliminated. In a fancier version, the meat is laboriously extracted and the fumetto produced with just the shells. The fumetto is added to the tomato sauce and reduced, and the tail meat is added for about 2 minutes at very low heat so it’s not overcooked, then it’s added to the chicche.

If done exactly right, this is a fabulous primo piatto you might find anywhere near the sea, especially in places also near a river.

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Italian Name: Chicche con cicale di mare
English Name: Gnocchetti with Seafood
Course: Primo Piatto
Where you're most likely to find it: Coastal