“The 29th is the Dia de Ñoquis — the Day of Gnocchi. This is the day when everyone gets together to eat it,” says Norma Gomez. “Almost all families make it, nearly always on a Sunday or the 29th.”
Gomez is showing me how to make the tasty dumplings on a ranch in the Misiones Province in northern Argentina. Gnocchi (there’s a recipe below) came to Argentina when Italian immigrants began arriving in the 19th century, bringing with them traditional recipes for pizza, pasta and ñoquis de papa, or potato gnocchi.
The story of the tradition is pretty simple. The 29th of the month was just before payday — people got paid on the first of the month — so by the end of the month, money was tight and all that was left in the larder was potatoes and flour. Gnocchi, or ñoquis, are the perfect solution as they are filling and not expensive. The 29th is also the day when an Italian saint, Saint Pantaleo, who had many miracles attributed to him, was canonized. So the tradition of the 29th is said to honor him.
Now families and friends gather on the 29th to eat gnocchi together for good luck. Some restaurants only serve gnocchi on this day, and many offer gnocchi specials. At dinner, for extra luck and prosperity, the tradition is that everyone at the table gets a peso coin or note under their dinner plate. “We put money under the dinner plate and the person keeps it,” says Gomez. “We only do this on the 29th, not on a Sunday.”
Gomez, who is from Obera in the Misiones Province, is the chef at La Chacra, a country ranch that has tea and yerba mate plantations. She tells me that in the Misiones Province, yuca (also known as mandioca and cassava) is more plentiful than potatoes.
“We make gnocchi from yuca because there are few potatoes here,” says Gomez, who also says that they sometimes add pumpkin or spinach to the yuca.
“I learned to cook from my mother, and my mother taught me how to make it,” says the chef, who is passing on her cooking skills to her daughter, Marta. In other places in Argentina, like Buenos Aires, you can find stuffed gnocchi with ham and cheese, but Gomez says it’s already heavy and therefore goes best with a pasta sauce.
Gordon traveled to La Chacra in Argentina with Say Hueque.
Here’s how to make yuca gnocchi:
- 2 pounds yuca or mandioca, boiled and mashed/pureed (1 1/2 pounds of potatoes can be substituted
- 1 cup flour
- 1 egg yolk
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon corn oil
Put the mashed yuca in a bowl and add one egg yolk.
Add corn oil and a pinch of salt and mix by hand.
Add the flour. Knead the mixture in the bowl for about five minutes and add a little more flour, as needed, until the mixture has a soft, dough-like texture — not too sticky and not too hard or dry. It should have the same texture as the dough for white bread.
Divide the mixture into four and sprinkle some flour on top. Then roll out the first quarter of the mixture onto a floured work area, making a long, thin roll about one inch wide.
Cut the roll into one-inch-long pieces.
Take each piece and press your thumb slightly into it, rolling it gently down on the wooden gnocchi tool — a small board that has special grooves to indent the gnocchi. Pressing it in slightly with the thumb while rolling it down is what gives the gnocchi its shape and adds lines to the back of it. This can also be done with the back of a fork.
To cook the gnocchi, boil a pot of water, add some salt and a drop of oil. Drop the gnocchi pieces in, and when they rise to the top (after about 1 minute), scoop them out with a slotted spoon.
Serve with your favorite sauce — gnocchi goes well with any pasta sauce.