July 29, 2011
Today in Argentina people from coast to coast are meeting friends and family over plates of gnocchi (or ñoquis, if you're in Argentina) to celebrate one of my most favorite time-honored Argentinean food traditions–the habit of eating gnocchi on the 29th day of each month.
I recently got an email from reader Socorro in Miami, who reminded me that it's been a long while since I wrote about the traditions of this holiday.
While gnocchi came to Argentina along with the influx of Italians who immigrated to their new home in the early 20th century, the tradition of eating this dish is distinctly Argentinean. Newly arrived Italians ate gnocchi on the 29th of each month to honor the saint day of San Pantaleon, a Venetian patron saint who healed the ailing and would only take a simple meal (such as gnocchi) for payment.
But in modern times, the tradition has become something new–a way to make a celebration out of a day when many Argentineans, awaiting their once-monthly payday, are running low on funds and turn to a thrifty meal. Gnocchi in its simplest form is made from potato, flour, and water–as Socorro kindly pointed out, my version, which includes egg and ricotta, is a ramped-up version of the original. By the end of the month, many Argentineans turn to these types of economical meals until, when they are paid at the beginning of the month, they are flush again and can afford more costly dishes.
Argentineans, in their classic way of making something out of nothing, have made this a cause for celebration–gnocchi are for sale in streetside delis and empanada shops, served in restaurants across the country, and enjoyed at home–often with a group of friends or family invited to revel in the gnocchi together. It's typical to place money under the plate while eating–a good luck charm for fortune in the coming month.
Thriftiness is something I think we all can appreciate in the United States right now, and I love the old-fashioned common sense approach of bygone eras that's been in use for decades in Argentina. Even in times of political and financial insecurity, they manage to eat well and enjoy life.
Argentineans have experienced decades of political corruption and upheaval, yet they've taken lemons and made lemonade–and even kept a sense of humor about it–corrupt government employees on the Argentinean government payroll who never did any work and yet showed up at the beginning of each month to collect their paychecks became known as 'gnocchis'.
This 29th, I suggest we rally and do the same–for while the powers that be in Washington deliberate on our financial future, we'll be enjoying a plate of gnocchi at home with friends–enjoying a simple, thrifty meal.
Have you discovered our facebook page? Join the group From Argentina With Love, and enter for a facebook-page only giveaway for this month's gnocchi del 29!
Ñoquis de Hierbas Frescas
Fresh Herb Gnocchi
This recipe makes enough for 6-8. The gnocchi dough can be frozen formed into a ball, though additional flour will need to be added when it is defrosted and rolled out, or formed into gnocchi, laid out on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper, and frozen, then removed to a freezer bag for storage for up to 2 months. The frozen gnocchi do not need to be defrosted for cooking, simply boil them as you would fresh gnocchi.
I really wanted to take advantage of the fresh herbs in our garden this year, and adding fresh herbs into the gnocchi was a great way and simple to make them seasonal. I used basil, mint and parsley, but you can experiment with your favorite herbs and whatever you have on hand. You can use either a sharp knife or a mezzaluna, pictured above, for your chopping.
2 pounds baking potatoes (about 6 medium sized, Russet or Yukon Gold)
coarse salt, to taste
1 cup fresh, good quality ricotta cheese
table salt, to taste (about a teaspoon)
1 cup fresh herbs, chopped very fine (I used basil, parsley and mint, use your favorites–I used mostly basil, probably 1/2 cup, while mint and parsley were about 1/4 cup each)
2-3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
Peel and chop the potatoes coarsely, putting them in a medium stock pot with enough water to cover the potatoes with one inch of water. Add a handful of coarse salt. Put the potatoes to boil until they are tender when pierced with a fork, but not mushy. Drain the potatoes.
Put the potatoes through a food mill or potato ricer. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, eggs, fresh herbs and ricotta, and mix well using your hands or a fork until a consistent dough is formed. Be careful not to overmix.
Add the flour a half cup at a time, mixing each time by hand until there is a soft, pliable dough (similar to new Play-Doh). The dough should not be sticky, and it should not be hard. If it's too sticky or soft, the gnocchi will be mushy, but if there's too much flour, the gnocchi will be chewy and hard.
Knead the dough a few times until uniform, and divide the dough in half . Lightly flour a work area, and roll the dough out into a long thin roll about 3/4 inch thick. Cut these tubes of dough into sections about 1 inch long. Meanwhile, bring a stock pot of water to a boil.
There are a variety of ways to 'mark' the gnocchi-all just a style choice, since at this point, they are more or less done. Here are some suggestions: Mark an indentation in the center of each gnocchi with your index finger; or roll over the side of a cheese grater to make patterned indentations; or roll over the backside of a fork, or roll over the center of a wooden gnocchi tool.
At this point, the gnocchi can be frozen laid out on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. After they are frozen, they can be stored in a freezer bag. Frozen gnocchi are just put into the boiling water like the unfrozen ones.
Drop the gnocchi one at a time into the boiling water. They are cooked when they rise to the top. Collect with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate. Serve with the sauce of your choice. (Some nice choices are walnut Gorgonzola, tomato or white sauce.) Red sauce (called Tuco in Argentina) is a great combination with the herbs.