This is how I knew I was going to fall in love with Argentina:
Argentinos eat gnocchi together on the 29th of every month, and it's a national holiday.
Excuse me while I swoon.
Yes, that's right--people all over the country get together on the same day every month just to eat gnocchi. Now, that's s my idea of a national holiday! I didn't grow up with any sort of food traditions that are celebrated like this on a national level. But in Argentina, the tradition is that on the 29th day of each and every month, one is supposed to eat gnocchi. Okay, twist my arm...
Argentinos are fond of the expression 'a full belly, a happy heart,' and on the 29th they prepare Ñoquis (as they spell it) at home and invite friends over to share the meal; it's also quite common to find ñoquis on the menu in restaurants on this day. Either way, diners end up both full and happy.
Traditionally, money is placed under the plate to attract prosperity. The money is kept by the diner as a good luck charm, is left for the hostess to pay for the gnocchi for the following month, or can be given to a member of the party who is in need.
There are a number of stories about how this tradition got started. Italian immigrants (whose descendants make up about 50 percent of Argentina's population) may have brought this tradition with them. Some say that an Italian saint named San Pantaleon, one of the patron saints of Venice, was canonized on the 29th, each month this day is celebrated as his feast day.
Some say it was a group of housewives in the 1970s that finally made the tradition widespread, a way to celebrate an otherwise dreary time of the month for most households-the last days of the month before payday, when the money had run out. (I particularly like this idea, since Housewife is my day job.)
Tomorrow is the 29th. Invite some friends over and make some gnocchi, or go to your local Argentinian restaurant and eat some. Put a dollar under your plate-and see what prosperity comes your way! (And then write and tell me about it, por favor!)
Receta de Ñoquis del 29
Recipe for 29th-of-the-month Gnocchi
The goal (and the challenge) of good gnocchi is that it should be light and fluffy while also dense enough to have flavor, but not so dense that they are chewy or gummy.
2 lbs. baking potatoes (about 6)
1 cup fresh, good quality ricotta cheese
2-3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
Peel and quarter the potatoes, putting them in a medium stock pot with enough water to cover the potatoes with one inch of water. Add a scant handful of 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, 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. 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 tough. (This is the challenging part!)
Knead the dough a few times until uniform, and divide the dough in half . 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.
Throw 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.)