Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

Why Argentineans Eat Gnocchi Every Month on the 29th, and You Should Too

by 
Rebecca Treon
March 22, 2021

I no longer have an Argentinean husband, but I still have some of his family’s incredible recipes — including one for gnocchi that my kids and I make religiously once a month — and it turns out that’s enough for me.

When I married my ex-husband, I was curious about not only what he ate on major holidays growing up, but also about everyday dishes. I was insatiable. I learned everything I could, tapping my mother-in-law for family recipes and scouring the internet for everything I could find. I started a blog chronicling our travels that got a great response, especially from Argentineans in the U.S. whose grandmothers never wrote a recipe down and who could finally recreate flavors from their childhoods in their own kitchens.

Like the U.S., Argentina welcomed European immigrants with open arms at the turn of the 20th century, and those newcomers brought their customs and cuisine along with them. In Argentina, I discovered a country that took its traditions from Spain (like El Ratoncito Pérez instead of the Tooth Fairy), from Ukraine (we were married in a Ukrainian church in the small town my ex-husband grew up in whose citizens have Ukrainian roots) and from Italy.

Some 60% of Argentineans today claim Italian heritage and the lilting dialect of Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires (known as lunfardo) traces its closest dialectic roots to Neapolitan Italian, so it follows that Italian food is a big part of Argentina’s culinary lexicon. Pizza and pasta are on almost every restaurant menu alongside the steak and empanadas Argentina is typically associated with.

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Another thing Argentina is famous for is its bureaucratic red tape, political corruption, and wildly fluctuating economy. Unlike the bi-weekly paycheck that’s typically expected Stateside, most Argentineans are paid once a month. (In fact, workers in the public sector are nicknamed ‘ñoquis,’ stereotyped as being lazy, unqualified, and only showing up for a paycheck on the 29th of each month, the same day gnocchi are traditionally eaten.) By the end of the month, when funds are stretched thin, it’s reflected in the pantry, with simple, cost-effective meals taking the place of more expensive, meat-centric ones. Enter ‘Ñoquis del 29’ (loosely, ‘gnocchi on the 29th’), a traditional meal eaten on the 29th every month.

On the 29th, delis and pizzerias everywhere offer fresh gnocchi to go (to be cooked at home), restaurants run gnocchi specials, and families roll out dough on countertops across the country. Guests are often invited over, and money is placed under the plate (and taken home after dinner) for good fortune in the month to come. It’s also a feast day in the Catholic church associated with Saint Pantaleon, an Italian saint canonized on the 29th. He worked with the poor, and many miracles were attributed to him, so he’s honored with a humble meal like gnocchi.

Gnocchi (Ñoquis in Spanish) are made with potatoes, eggs, and flour as its core ingredients and can be served with a range of sauces from a simple tomato sauce like marinara (called tuco in Argentina), a cream sauce, or even browned butter and fresh sage topped with Parmesan. There are many variations, too, because you can add just about anything into that potato, egg, and flour base, like pumpkin or squash puree, fresh herbs, ricotta cheese, or spinach (like the recipe included here). Gnocchi is also simple to make and doesn’t take chef-level skills in the kitchen, just a little practice to get the texture right — not too dense and not so light it falls apart when boiled.

Even though I’m no longer married to my Argentinean ex-husband, we share two children — a boy and a girl who are 14 and 9. For me, it’s important that my kids know about and celebrate the traditions on both sides of their family and that they understand their dad’s heritage. In our house, we celebrate Christmas and Los Reyes Magos (when children put their shoes by the door and wake up the morning of January 6th with gifts in their shoes), my kids know that the way an empanada is folded together denotes the type of filling that’s inside, and we make gnocchi together on the 29th.

Because gnocchi are so easy to make, it’s something we look forward to doing, rather than a chore. We love rolling out the dough and the gnocchi because it’s fun and hands-on and my kids feel accomplished in helping to prepare dinner. Even smaller kids can roll out snakes of dough as if they’re playing with Play-Doh, but now that they’re older, my kids can do almost all of the recipe with just a little help and a watchful eye. 

Not only do we eat gnocchi every 29th, it’s a little event for us on its own. We set the table — I typically put a gold dollar under each plate — put on music, and make an occasion of it. It’s been especially fun in the past year when we haven’t always felt like cooking and sitting down to dinner.

The 29th is a holiday at our house, but not the type of holiday where there’s added stress to do all the things, rather it’s a fun family meal that we look forward to having together. Like a lot of families who often don’t sit down for dinner because of busy schedules, extracurricular activities, and homework, over the years, these dinners have become times when we share family stories and conversation that lead to us talking about life’s big questions. Like the famous quote that says “Time is free, but it’s priceless,” the inexpensive tradition of Ñoquis del 29 has become invaluable to us.

Spinach Gnocchi for the 29th

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Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 ½ lbs. russet potatoes, scrubbed and peeled (about 3-4 potatoes)

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 cup (8 oz.) Fifth Season spinach

2 eggs

½ cup ricotta cheese

1 cup flour, plus more as needed

Salt and pepper, to taste

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Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 ½ lbs. russet potatoes, scrubbed and peeled (about 3-4 potatoes)

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 cup (8 oz.) Fifth Season spinach

2 eggs

½ cup ricotta cheese

1 cup flour, plus more as needed

Salt and pepper, to taste

Ingredients

1 ½ lbs. russet potatoes, scrubbed and peeled (about 3-4 potatoes)

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 cup (8 oz.) Fifth Season spinach

2 eggs

½ cup ricotta cheese

1 cup flour, plus more as needed

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Cube the potatoes and boil them in salted water until they are tender when poked with a fork, about 10-12 minutes. Drain very well and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the spinach. Sauté the spinach until it’s wilted, about 5 minutes. 

2. Drain the moisture off of the spinach, pressing down to squeeze the moisture out. Transfer the spinach into a blender and puree. It’s ok if it’s a little chunky, it will just add a marbled texture to the gnocchi, whether you want it to have a marbled texture or a more pureed style is up to you.

3. Put the potatoes through a ricer (or mash very fine with a potato masher or a fork). 

4. In a large bowl, add the riced potatoes, eggs, ricotta cheese, flour, and spinach puree and combine until you have a uniform dough.

(Option: You may also, instead, forego pureeing the spinach first and simply put it in the blender with all other ingredients listed and combine.)

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and divide it into four balls. With one of the balls, knead gently in the flour until it’s no longer sticky and begin to roll it out into a snake about an inch in diameter. The key with gnocchi is that they aren’t heavy dough balls, but light and delicate, without falling apart. So you want to add enough flour that the dough isn’t sticky but that it’s not too heavy. If it’s crumbly, try to knead it together. If it’s sticky, add a bit more flour.

6. Lightly flour the dough and cut it into 1-inch pieces. Using a floured wooden gnocchi roller tool or the back side of a fork, roll the gnocchi piece across it to score the gnocchi into a curved pasta. Place each piece (not touching) on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. When you have made enough gnocchi, drop them one at a time into the boiling water. (This is why it’s a great family project, one person can do the boiling while the others are rolling gnocchi.) When the gnocchi float to the top, remove them with a slotted spoon and into a strainer. Continue until all the gnocchi are cooked.

Gnocchi is great served with marinara, pomodoro, bechamel sprinkled with nutmeg, alfredo, or even butter. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Notes on gnocchi: 

- Gnocchi isn’t a typical pasta dough — don’t let it rest. Unlike regular pasta dough, resting will result in a mushy blob.

- The key with gnocchi is a light hand. You don’t want to knead it like bread. You have to find the balance between so light it’s sticky and falls apart and too much flour, which is heavy and also leaves flour flakes on the counter.

- To test if gnocchi is the right consistency, take a small piece and roll it in your hand. If you can make a ball, it’s ready.

- To freeze gnocchi, follow the steps up until you’re ready to boil. Instead of boiling, take the lined baking sheet with the gnocchi on it and put it in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, put them in a freezer bag. Frozen gnocchi take a little bit longer to cook.

About the Author

Rebecca Treon

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