March 29, 2009

Ñoquis del 29 en Argentina–‘Gnocchi of the 29th’ in Argentina

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In Argentina, the 29th of every month is celebrated by eating Ñoquis (gnocchi)–something that's not done in any other South American country.  The tradition likely came with the Italians who immigrated to Argentina–over half of today's Argentinians can trace their roots back to Italy–but the custom solidified via local amas de casa (housewives) who had run out of funds by the end of the month.  Looking for a tasty budget meal, they started making ñoquis, simple dumplings made from potato, ricotta, egg, and flour.  The 29th is also the feast day of San Pantaleon, one of the patron saints of Venice, another possible start of the tradition. 

Today, the 29th of each month finds delicious ñoquis on restaurant menus, in houses and in delis that sell fresh pasta all over Argentina. Friends and family gather together to share time and a meal.  Typically, money is placed under the plate as a talisman of good luck and wealth in the month to come.

This month, we hosted our own Ñoqui Day Party.

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The Event: 

Saturday, March 28th , 2009–Ñoquis Del 29 at Guillermo and Rebecca's…

The Guests: 

Gianna and Claudio–friends from Mendoza living in the US, Aliza and Rob (and family) American friends who own our favorite yoga studio (but still fantasize about running off to Argentina) Gisela and Ariel, (and family)–friends from Buenos Aires, living in the US, Kazia, a friend who runs Pica Peru, offering delicious culinary tours in Peru, and Rebecca's Mom, who was a huge help with everything!

The Music:

Music sets the mood for any party, and where would we be without Astor Piazzolla, Mercedes Sosa, (see store) and Los Nocheros?

And of course, The Menu: 

Empanadas Mendocinasempanadas filled with seasoned ground beef and onions

Empanadas de Espinaca–empanadas filled with spinach, ricotta, and roasted red pepper (recipe below)

Ñoquis con Salsa de Tres Colores–Gnocchi with Basil Pesto, Red Tomato Sauce, and Four Cheese Sauce (recipe below)

AlfajoresButter Cookies filled with Dulce de Leche

…and lots of Malbec…

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During the party, we talked about the traditions surrounding the 29th.  Gianna said her family made them at home (she's the one who taught me how to make the perfect ñoquis last year–she's an expert!) and that they ate them often but she never knew where the tradition originated from.  "It was just something we always did!"

We tried not to fill up on too many empanadas, because the ñoquis came up next.  Served in tri-color sauce, they were light and fluffy and incredibly good!  Gisela and Ariel's adorable son, Martin, (who's 4) paid us the best compliment after eating his ñoquis: he turned to his mom and said "Mami, quiero MAS!!"  ("Mommy, I want MORE!!")

Then we all satisfied our sweet tooth with an alfajor–a butter cookie filled with dulce de leche.  Some were covered in powdered sugar, some rolled in coconut, and some naked, all delicious!  (we actually stashed a few to eat for breakfast as part of the next day's recovery plan.)

You can easily have a ñoqui day party of your own–invite friends or family to share an Argentinean menu, put on some tango music and raise a glass of Malbec to good luck in the coming month–and don't forget to put a dollar under your plate!!  Salut, and happy Ñoquis Day!

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Empanadas de Espinaca y Ricota

Spinach and Ricotta Empanadas

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced fine

2 big bunches of spinach (I used 2 big bags of baby spinach) braised until wilted

1 1/2 cups whole milk Ricotta cheese

3/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

2 eggs, lightly beaten, reserve some for painting the top of the empanadas

1 roasted red pepper, seeded, peeled, and chopped fine

salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste

12 tapas (discos) for empanadas, home-made or store-bought 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Heat the olive oil in a skillet, and saute the onion until clear, about 5 minutes.  Add the braised spinach, chopping with a spatula to separate.  In a bowl, mix together the cheeses, eggs, and salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Stir in the red pepper, then the spinach and onion, mixing until combined.  Let cool before filling empanadas.

Lay out several tapas  on the counter top, to prepare them assembly-line style.  Put about a tablespoon of filling in the center of each empanada.  Wet your index finger with a little water and moisten the top half of the tapa.  Fold the bottom half to meet the top half, pressing around the edges to seal.  Cup your hands around the filling, packing the filling with the outside edge of your hands.  Seal using the repulgue technique, folding edges over and over in a pattern, or seal the edges using the tines of a fork.  Place the sealed empanadas on a lightly floured cookie sheet about 1 inch apart.  Brush the beaten egg over the top of each empanada.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the top is a golden brown. 

Salsa de Cuatro Quesos

Four Cheese Sauce

This sauce is fantastic tasting, super-easy, and can go on any pasta!

2 cups cream

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup each:

grated Parmesan cheese

shredded Mozzerella cheese

grated Romano cheese

shredded Provolone cheese

1/4 cup cornstarch

Heat the cream in a sauce pan, add in the butter and heat over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, and add in the cheeses, stirring to incorporate.  Stir until all the cheeses have melted, Add the cornstarch and stir until thickened.  Pour over pasta and serve immediately.

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