In Uruguay and Argentina, where the cuisine is strongly influenced by Italy, there is a curious tradition of unknown origin. They say that if you eat gnocchi on the 29th of each month, you’ll have plenty of cash for the next thirty days. Some people even place their wallets on their laps or put a couple of bills under their plate to encourage the unknown forces at work. Restaurant chefs and housewives invent all kinds of recipes that are intended to aid the spell. Nothing is said about February, which has only 28 days, except on leap years. In my next book, I will have a recipe that comes from South America, dressing the hot gnocchi in a Manchego cheese enriched cream sauce. Naturally, it will be called “Gnocchi for the 29th of the Month.” No need to get original when History herself supplies the intrigue.

Gnocchi is a soulful, down-to-earth comfort food. Making gnocchi is one of those skills that seems so simple, but is actually something like knitting a sweater or fixing a carburetor—so easy only if you’ve learned it at an elder’s side. When I researched gnocchi recipes, the following advice was given: “Go to the store and buy them.” Not so fast! You may not end up with perfection the first few times, but this is a skill that can be learned. Gnocchi can be made from a variety of ingredients, but the goal is always the same—a light delicate pillow—not a mushy slimy blob.

Potato Gnocchi
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 4 servings

  • 11/2 pounds russet potatoes
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup flour
  • kosher salt to taste for the gnocchi and for the cooking water

Put the unpeeled potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold salted water. Bring the water up to a boil and simmer the potatoes until tender—about 30 to 40 minutes. When they’re done, pour out the water and leave the potatoes in the hot pot for about five minutes. Let them cool down just enough to handle, remove their skins, cut them into quarters and allow them to cool down to room temperature—the idea is to let them steam themselves dry.

Run the potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill and into a bowl. Into the middle of this small mountain of potato, add one egg yolk and salt to taste. Combine gently with a fork. Slowly add a little flour at a time, and keep mixing with the fork. Once you’ve added about 3/4 cup of flour, you should be able to turn the dough out onto a counter top to knead. Knead it only enough to make it smooth—adding a little more flour only if it’s still really sticky. The less flour you add and the less you knead the dough, the lighter and more delicate your gnocchi are going to be.

Roll the dough out into long ropes about 25 inches long, then cut them into little 1-inch lengths. Using the rounded backside of the tines of a fork, shape the gnocchi. Flour your fingers a little bit, and roll the gnocchi down the length of the tines and onto a floured counter top. This takes a little practice—they may not all look identical, but that’s part of the appeal of a nice homemade gnocchi. Cook them in a big pot of boiling salted water, in 3 or 4 batches. (If you don’t cook them in batches, they all stick together in a big blob at the bottom of the pot.) When you first drop them in, they’ll sink to the bottom of the pot. Just before they are done, they will rise to the surface. Let them cook for another 30 seconds and fish them out with a slotted spoon. Sauce them any way you like. A light tomato sauce, or pesto, or browned butter and sage are all good.

Or, you could get an Italian grandmother, from Uruguay.

I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s my word on food.


Copyright © by Norman Van Aken, 2002
Works consulted: Memory Lane.