Friday, November 19, 2010

The Food Desert Project - Gnoch, ñoq - who's there?

Potato-Flake Ñoquis

2210141486_464967d044.jpgOn the the Argentine Dia de los ñoquis (or Los ñoquis del 29), families from all walks of life pay homage to the day before payday when the cupboard is bare save for potatoes and flour (there's also stories about some parsimonious saint, but I like the idea of making something out of nothing better.) Argentine ñoquis are related to Italian gnocchi - but traditional Argentine dumplings don't contain anything but potatoes, flour and salt.  (Those Italians - you add a silent "g" and anything goes. ;-) )

Potato flakes are ideal for this recipe, since the key is to keep your potatoes as dry as possible.  I started with this recipe, which is stupidly simple:

1 cup of dried instant mashed potato flakes (the plain variety)
1 1/4 cups water*
1 cup of flour
1/2 tsp salt

Bring the water and salt to a boil and remove from heat; add potato flakes and stir until thoroughly combined.    Add the flour, a little at a time, and mix until it comes together in a dough. Allow to rest at least 10 min or while you prepare the sauce - and avoid overworking the dough.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, make a test ñoqui, and drop it in the water - after it floats, strain it out and taste it: if "slimy" or if it falls apart, you will want to knead some more flour into your dough, which should be fluffy but still a bit toothsome.

* YMMV - check the instructions on the box of your instant mashed potatoes.  You will want to use only water, but about 1/4 cup less than the recommended amount of total liquid on the box.

On a floured surface, roll dough into long "snakes" about 1/2" wide and cut into little squarish bits (here's where some tutelage from Abuelita would have been helpful, but alas, I learned from guessing and the internet, so our gnocchi are a bit odd-shaped) I Comandeered the help of a youthful assistant well-versed in dismembering play dough snakes, and together we smashed the squarish bits with a well-floured fork and peeled the resulting rectangles off to form a cylindrical shape.  (Wanna feel inadequate?  This baby makes ñoquis better than we can.)

Toss these into salted boiling water 5-8 at a time, stirring gently to separate. Watch carefully - it only takes a minute or two; when they float, they're ready. Drop into prepared sauce immediately to hold as you cook the remainder (this is where an oil or butter sauce is helpful.)

(My non-food-desert recipe is dead-simple: 1 fully-cooked medium-size microwaved or baked potato, 1/2 cup of flour, 1/4 tsp salt.  Rice potato, salt, add flour a little at a time, mixing with each addition and stopping when it holds together.  Allow 2 potatoes per person and scale recipe as needed.  Prepare as above.)

Searching Argentine recipe sites for traditional sauces for Los ñoquis del 29 offered recipes for tomato marinara, salsa quatro quesos (4 cheese sauce), butter and sage, or just plain butter and parmesan, most of which would be easy to work into this project, but our family agreed that the slightly piquant Romesco sauce was an excellent accompaniment to the fluffy dumplings.

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