By Agustín Federico Masondo // @goose_masondo
Illustrations and photography by Rhia Cook // @rhiacookmakes
On the 29th of every month, Argentina stops to honor the most basic of its native ingredients-- the potato. Every family, from the wealthy élite of Buenos Aires capital to the mountains of the Patagonia, gathers once a month to make, eat, and pray/manifest/dream over handmade potato gnocchi, a recipe brought over to Argentina-- like most Argentine things-- by Italian immigrants to Buenos Aires in the 19th century. The making of the gnocchi (or rather, ñoquis) is an affair for the whole family, and each person gets their role-- the kids mash the potatoes, the nonna kneads the dough, the adults mold each strip of dough into dumpling shapes. Each family, in turn, has their own recipe, although the principles remain the same: potato, flour, egg. In some Northern provinces, where potato is less readily available than its cousins, ñoquis can be made with yuca (cassava), zapallo (Andean pumpkin), or by adding spinach.
I left Argentina when I was 5 years old, and although I usually return every few years to visit family I still feel like I don’t know Argentina or my native Buenos Aires very well. As an adult, making ñoquis with the people closest to me is a way to both share a cultural practice I have warm memories of, and to celebrate the families and the homes-away-from-home that we’ve created. And as each 29th passes, I get to catalogue the trajectory of my life through ñoquis-- last 29th, I was working in Loch Lomond and couldn’t get a hold of a wide variety of ingredients, so the ñoqui came with a simple white sauce. The 29th prior to that, I had an unnecessary amount of spare time and wanted to impress my guests, so I made a (not at all traditional) chanterelle lemon sauce. As the months and years pass, I collect memories of ñoquis I have made, and families I have fed.
The legend goes that the custom of eating ñoquis on the 29th originated in the slums of Buenos Aires during the 19th century, where money was scarce but food was always in abundance. In the days before payday (as most people got paid on the first), poor Italian wives would feed their families with gnocchi made from the cheap and plentiful potato rather than semolina. As time went on, the more established Italian families of Buenos Aires would invite their recently-arrived countrymen over to eat gnocchi at the end of the month, slipping cash under their plates to help tide them over until the next paycheck. According to some, this potato-based tradition began to be practiced on the 29th to honour San Pantaleón, patron saint of lottery winners, who performed miracles in the Piemonte region on the 29th of July. Eventually, los ñoquis del 29 (the gnocchi of the 29th) or ñoquis de la abundancia (abundance gnocchi) began to be practiced by everyone, with coins or notes placed under the plate to bring in good luck month after month. The money, it is said, will be multiplied by the amount of ñoquis eaten, so it’s best to not be stingy and to eat your fill.
LOS ÑOQUIS DEL 29 RECIPE (for 4)
1 kg of potato (note that the type of potato used will change the texture of the ñoqui-- for a lighter, fluffier ñoqui a floury potato such as Maris Piper or King Edward works best)
150-300g of flour
Preheat the oven to gas 5/190C and wash the potatoes. Dry them well and pierce evenly with a fork before baking for around an hour, or until the potatoes are completely cooked through.
Remove from the oven, and as soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle (be careful! A potato burn is not a pleasant one) remove the skin and discard it. Make sure not to let the potatoes cool down too much, as the ñoquis will get tougher and chewier the longer this takes.
On a clear surface, scatter approximately 150 grams of the flour. Pass your potatoes through a potato ricer/fine mesh sieve onto the flour, make a well in the centre, and add the egg.
Mix until everything comes together into a soft dough, adding more flour bit by bit if necessary. Be vigilant on this step-- too much flour and the ñoquis will become hard to chew, too little flour and the ñoquis will fall apart. The key is to stop mixing as soon as the dough forms, and not a second more.
Once the dough is ready, set it aside to lightly flour your work station. Separate the dough into manageable pieces and roll them out into cylinders approx. 1 inch in diameter.
Cut the cylinders into 1 inch-wide segments, and lightly roll them over the tongs of a fork, using your thumb to create a little dent on the other side. This takes a lot of practice to perfect, so don’t worry if your ñoqui look more like potato spheres-- it’s still ñoqui, and they’re still good. Once done, lightly flour your ñoqui and place them on a flour-dusted tray.
Bring your water to a boil and then to a simmer, salt to taste, and boil about half of your ñoqui. Make sure not to overcrowd your pot, as the ñoqui will stick together. As the ñoqui begin to rise to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon and place into your sauce of choice (my personal favourite is a hearty ragú/bolognese, especially during the winter).
Plate and serve your ñoqui, placing a coin or a note underneath your plate. Make sure to not lift your plate or remove the money until you are done eating!
¡Buen provecho! And may this month bring you abundance and prosperity.
This piece was originally published in our fifth Issue, all about Rituals. Pick up your copy below: