|Receta de Ñoquis del 29 (Recipe for 29th-of-the-month Gnocchi)|
Joan of FOODalogue has started the year off with another armchair travel adventure with her Culinary Tour 2010 - South of the Border . I hope you have been travelling with us since Joan is an excellent travel companion. If you haven't heard of this very popular event check out her site for all the round-ups of delicious recipes and stories by all the participants. This year she has featured the cuisine of 10 of our south-of-the-border neighbours. So far we have travelled to Mexico where we sipped on tequila and margaritas and enjoyed each others company virtually. Then we travelled to El Salvador and the "Ruta de las Flores" (Route of Flowers) where we enjoyed the fiesta atmosphere at the feria gastronómica (food festival) in a small mountain village. We just left Nicaragua where we volunteered on local projects, brushed up on our Spanish and stayed with the locals. Each one of these destinations in her culinary tour so far has challenged us to create a dish outside of our comfort zone and experience new taste and food sensations. We have also been able to do a little armchair travelling and daydreaming. Our next stop in our armchair travel is:
Argentinian cuisine is hearty fare, the roots of which can be traced to Spain, Italy, France and Germany, as well as the original inhabitants. Argentinians are famous for their meat consumption, especially beef grilled or roasted and served with piquant chimichurri sauce. Milanesas (veal cutlets), empanadas and pasta show European influence, while potatoes, corn, pumpkin and locro soup are popular traditional foods. Alfajores, cookies filled with dulce de leche, are favorites, as is a bracing cup of hot yerba maté .
At the start of the 20th century, Argentina, like the States and Canada, was experiencing an industrial boom, bringing waves of European immigrants to its shores. In Argentina, over 50% of those immigrants came from Italy, and they brought their traditions and cuisine along with them. Since we will be travelling extensively in Argentina with Joans' virtual tour I wanted to experience authentic Argentinean foods.
I happened to arrive a few days early on January 29th when the restaurants were overflowing . One of the traditions I love in this beautiful country is that the 29th of every month is Gnocchi Day, (or as the Argentineans call it “ñoquis del 29″), and the restaurants prepare for the crowds that spill through the doors. Any country that would have a holiday that centers around food is all right in my books!!!!!!And they celebrate ñoquis 12 days of the year!!!!!
On the 29th day of each and every month it is a tradition in Argentina to get together and eat gnocchi or ñoquis. Some say the tradition is in honour of Saint Pantaleon, the patron saint of Venice, whose feast day is on the 29th. Pantaleon was a doctor in the 8th century who, upon converting to Christianity, made a pilgrimage across Northern Italy. The saint is said to have eaten a simple meal with farmers on one of his pilgrimages. The farmers had a record crop the next year and the miracle was credited to the saint. Each month, all of Argentina honours those with humble beginnings. The 29th was selected because it was typically the day when people were the poorest, the day before payday. I think I can relate to that!!! Gnocchi was an inexpensive, yet filling meal that they enjoyed with hopes of attracting prosperity. To do so they placed a peso coin under their plates while eating. 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.
The small doughy balls are typically made of potato but at this restaurant they were also offered in spinach, sweet potato, and pumpkin flavours. The name gnocchi translates literally to "a stupid person" but the reason for the reference is unclear. Gnocchi, an Italian specialty, is served with a variety of sauces including a simple butter and parmesan, pesto, gorgonzola cream or a light marinara. Gnocchi is frequently served as a side dish to meats or poultry but may also serve as an appetizer or main course as well. Sauces of all types were available at the restaurant as well as some of the specialties of El Boliche and there were even stuffed gnocchi to add a little spin on the traditional dish. There was no better way to celebrate my first Gnocchi Day than with a little bit of everything, so, between my new found friends and I we filled our table with different varieties of both the pasta and the sauces. Superstitious or not it was worth a try for the fun and tradition so we each dug into our pockets to find a peso and stuck it under our dishes as well. Whether it’s divine intervention from San Pantaleon you desire, or as a talisman of good luck the intention is the same....prosperity and abundance in the month to come.
Spending time with new found friends and sharing dishes was an excellent initiation into the culture. Now I am off to meet Joan and the rest of the crew at Estancia Ranquilo. It is a remote family-owned 100,000 acre horse and cattle ranch nestled in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. It is a vast expanse of land in Patagonia, stretching across leagues of high steppes, river valleys, grazing meadows, and jagged cliffs, into the very heart of the Argentine cordillera. Ranquilco’s western boundary is the border with Chile... the high country...graced with lakes, waterfalls, condors, hot springs and weeks of wandering. Of course being the foodie that I am we had to join Cooking in Patagonia which is a 10 day course in Argentine cooking, focusing on traditional Patagonian foods offered by the ranch. This is not just any culinary vacation, it is a journey into the world’s last frontier, Patagonia, the land of the gauchos which began in Buenos Aires and ended in the Andean cordillera (mountains). Our food tour included cultural excursions, cooking demonstrations, tastings, fly fishing, hands on instruction, and best of all, great food and fine wine.
We arrived in Buenos Aires and spent the day touring the city and met up with Georgie and the other course participants at a restaurant for a traditional parillada mixta, or mixed grill with wine from the Mendoza province. The Argentine parilla typically includes steak, beef ribs, chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), chinchulines (chitterlings), and mollejas (sweetbreads). We also walked through the colorful outdoor food market where locals gather to talk and buy what local farmers bring fresh that morning.
From there we travelled by truck to Buta Mallin a large grazing meadow and gaucho camp on Estancia Ranquilco. We had a lunch of asado with one of their gauchos and then had our first matè session. The infusion called maté is prepared by steeping dry leaves and twigs of the yerba plant in hot water. Drinking maté with friends from a shared hollow gourd with a metal straw (a bombilla) is a common social practice in Argentina and one which we enjoyed throughout our trip.
Our luggage was loaded onto sturdy pack mules and we were introduced to our horse for the 3 hour ride to the lodge at Ranquilco. Over a period of days we had several cooking lessons with Georgie from empanadas with a variety of fillings, traditional bread making (pan casero), cheesemaking, scrumptious alfajores (two butter cookies with rich dulce de leche from the milk of their own cows sandwiched in between), homemade pasta ravioli with a cream and butter sauce with pine mushrooms from the area (hongos de pino) and many other regional dishes. We enjoyed ranch life with some dancing, fine wines, delicious foods and a little fly fishing thrown in. My virtual experience here was one I would love to repeat in "real time".
When I was in San Francisco for BlogHer Food in October I was lucky enough to meet up with Rebecca T. Caro who has traveled to Argentina numerous times with her husband, who is from Mendoza. She hosts a blog dedicated to the cuisine and culture of Argentina, From Argentina With Love and can be contacted there. Her blog is a gastronomic delight of authentic and delicious foods. Her photos alone will have you wanting more. Rebecca's blog is filled with so many delicious choices, but, ever since I learned we were travelling to Argentina virtually I was enamoured by Gnocchi Day. This made it an easy decision for me on what to prepare. According to Rebecca Argentinos are fond of the expression "a full belly, a happy heart," and on the 29th of each month 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.
The goal, and the challenge, of good gnocchi is that it should be light and fluffy while also dense enough to have flavour, but not so dense that they are chewy or gummy. It takes a little practice and I had never made gnocchi previously. I commandeered my good friend Emelia here at home (since we are only travelling to Argentina virtually and I have to get back to reality) who kindly walked me through all the steps of gnocchi making. By the end of the morning I was rolling gnocchi like an Italian or Argentinian grandmother!!!! This recipe comes from Rebecca's site and makes a tender gnocchi with that perfect mouth feel. For the sauce use your own delicious tomato sauce and add a few tablespoons of pesto.
**Receta de Ñoquis del 29 (Recipe for 29th-of-the-month Gnocchi)**
2 lbs. baking potatoes (about 6)
1 cup fresh, good quality ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for topping)
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 handful of coarse 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. (Or mash very finely with a fork.) In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, eggs, parmesan and ricotta, and mix well using your hands or a fork until consistent dough is formed. Be careful not to over mix.
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 only challenging part!)
Knead the dough a few times until uniform, adding some more flour if needed, 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.
Note: for more dense gnocchi, roll lightly, just enough to mark the dough. For light fluffy gnocchi, roll on a gnocchi tool (available in any Argentinean grocery) and press firmly so that the gnocchi rolls around the tip of your thumb and resembles a little ear. Tip: If using the gnocchi tool, flour the ridges periodically so that the dough doesn’t stick as it’s being pushed into the grooves.
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.
To make the gnocchi, either fresh or frozen, throw the gnocchi one at a time into the boiling water. (If you throw them in by the handful, you will get one big glob of gnocchi.)They are cooked when they rise to the top. (Less than 5 minutes) 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 alfredo/cuatro quesos.)
NOTE: I divided the gnocchi dough in half and added pesto to one half and parsley to the other.
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