30 July 2012

Gnocchi Day

Yesterday was Gnocchi Day! So did you eat your gnocchi? No? You didn't? But it's Gnocchi Day on the 29th of every month, everywhere in the world, isn't that right? Isn't that the one certainty in this uncertain world? Mark and I first learned of Gnocchi Day back in the '90s during a brief visit to Cordoba, Argentina. We happened to be in Cordoba on a 29th and some friends of ours, one Argentine and one Brazilian, suggested we meet them for dinner in an Italian restaurant. Silly us, we looked at the menu. "Why are you looking at the menu?" the Argentine asked us. "Don't you know what day it is? It's the 29th. It's Gnocchi Day." So we closed the menu and we ordered gnocchi. Nhoque da fortuna, to be more exact. We did as we were told and slipped a dollar bill beneath the steaming plate when it was served. That's what would bring the fortuna, the good luck and prosperity. "You don't do this when you're at home in New York on the 29th?" the Brazilian asked us. We admitted that we didn't. "But that's crazy," the Argentine said, his voice raised in indignation. "Everyone eats gnocchi on the 29th of the month. Everyone puts money under his plate." Whoa, easy boy, we're just eating dinner here. But there it was, complete culture collision. 

By the end of dinner we had heard the whole story of Gnocchi Day, this culinary vestige of Italian immigration to South America. With people getting paid on the first of every month, money was always tight by the end of the month. What was left in the pantry but potatoes and flour and, if you were lucky, an egg or two? There's your classic gnocchi . . . fast, easy, cheap, hearty and belly-filling. Our friends were so insistent that Gnocchi Day is internationally known and celebrated that Mark and I returned to New York believing we had missed something all these years. We went around to some of our local Italian restaurants in Greenwich Village to solve this mystery, but no one had ever heard of anything called Gnocchi Day. Then we decided to go right to the source and headed straight for Little Italy. If anyone had heard of it, we would find them there. But even in Little Italy we came up empty. Until, that is, we found an Argentine waiter. After a big laugh he shook his head. "No, Gnocchi Day is just a South American thing," he confirmed, still chuckling.   

As the 29th day of each month approaches, Mark and I smile as we see the Gnocchi Day Special signs go up in the restaurants around Búzios. We've even gone to a few, playing along with this "international" celebration. But no matter what day you eat gnocchi, it's delicious. I often make it from scratch at home, and it's fun and easy. And worth it. Here's my recipe, using a Brazilian potato called batata baroa, which has a most unusual, distinctive flavor that is a perfect foil to a gorgonzola sauce.

batata baroa

1 kg (2 lbs) potatoes (batata baroa if possible)
1 egg (or 2 yolks)
1 C flour
½ C fécula de batata (potato starch flour)
nutmeg, salt, olive oil, butter
a hunk of gorgonzola

Peel and boil the potatoes in cold water to cover. Drain and mash. Add salt, nutmeg, egg and stir quickly. Then add two handfuls of flour and mix in a bowl.

Form the dough with the remaining flour outside of the bowl. Knead until pliable. 

Roll into snakes and cut pieces off the snakes.

Cook in boiling water until the gnocchi rise to the top. Drizzle with oil after draining. You can use them right away, or store them for 2-3 days in the refrigerator (reboiling before using) or keep 3 months in the freezer (reboiling after thawing). 

Melt gorgonzola in butter and/or cream, add the gnocchi . . .

. . . and serve.

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