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At the end of the month, Argentine families and friends gather and have a gnocchi feast.
Photo: ideasinfood on Flickr

“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: