It's time for another Argentine dish. I made this for my husband while we were dating. Actually, I had just tried to break up with him at a Mexican restaurant in Provo, Utah called Los Hermanos. He now refers to it as "the Los Hermanos Episode." So to make it up to him I made ñoquis and invited him over for dinner. Less than two weeks later we were engaged. Coincidence? Probably.
First a little history. Ñoquis (called gnocchi in most places) date back to Roman times and can be made from potatoes, semolina, wheat flour, bread crumbs, etc. Outside of Italy, it's usually made with potatoes. In Argentina, the 29th of each month is Ñoquis Day. It was the day before pay day, money was tight and ñoquis were cheap to make. There are a variety of ways to make the actual ñoqui as well as a variety of sauces to add to it. You can even buy them fresh, frozen, or dried in many grocery stores. This is the version that I came to know in Northern Argentina. I learned the process from an Argentine friend in Yerba Buena, Tucuman who laughed at me for rolling the ñoquis so slowly. I've gotten better and faster since then, but it is a little awkward at first.
Step 1: Peel and cut up about one potato per person. It may not seem like a lot, but trust me. We always end up making way more than we think. Boil the potatoes in heavily salted water and then mash them with a little oil or butter (about 2 tablespoons). The salt keeps the potatoes from soaking up too much water. There's a chemistry lesson in there, but we'll skip that for now. Once the potatoes are mashed, put them in the fridge to cool off. This can be done the day before or you can use leftover mashed potatoes as well.
Step 2: The sauce. Everything is chopped up finely, except the tomatoes and chicken, which are cubed or diced.
2 Tbs butter
1/2 an onion (chopped finely)
2 carrots (grated)
1/2 a red pepper (chopped finely)
1 medium tomato (cut up) or can of diced tomatoes
16 ounce can of tomato sauce
2-3 chicken breasts (cut into small pieces)
I use a food processor to chop the onion, carrots, and red pepper. First fry the onion in the butter. Then add the carrots. When the carrots begin to soften, add the red pepper, tomato, and tomato sauce.
Mix in the following spices:
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp parsley
1/8 tsp paprika
Add the chicken. Cook on medium high until chicken is cooked through. Then simmer on low until ready to eat.
Step 3: Making the ñoqui dough. Take the mashed potatoes and add lots and lots of flour. OK, start with 2-3 cups of flour. I add about a cup at a time until it reaches the right consistency. Mix and knead the mashed potato dough until it feels like bread dough. If it still feels sticky, add more flour.
Step 4: Forming the individual ñoqui noodles. Roll the dough into a long snake (just like you did when you played with play dough) and then cut into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces. Smaller are better, but you'll be rolling them out forever if you make hundreds of tiny ones. They look kind of like this once cut:
It is helpful, but not necessary to have a ñoqui maker. They are wooden with lots of grooves. If you don't have one, you can use the back of a fork. I've tried it and it does work, but I still prefer my ñoqui makers. In fact I think I need to buy a third one one to keep my kids from fighting over the extra one. This is a step that they love to be actively involved with. It usually means that I need to reroll a few that my kids "helped" with.
To form the ñoquis, start by flouring the ñoqui maker. Then grab one of the pieces of dough and smoosh it along the ñoqui maker with your thumb. The dough will roll out from under your thumb, curling up behind your thumb as you go. That may sound confusing, hopefully the pictures will help clarify. Please excuse my flouriness, it keeps the dough from sticking.
You should end up with a little shell shaped noodle. As you make them toss them onto a lightly floured surface. I use a cookie sheet. If you make an insanely large amount (like we do) you'll want to sprinkle flour over the ñoquis to keep them from sticking together as you layer more on top.
This is a 15x10 inch cookie sheet (see below). In some places they are stacked 3 deep. The idea was to have leftovers so that we wouldn't have to cook tomorrow. Not only do we have plenty for tomorrow, but we're going to have to invite some people over or we'll be eating ñoquis all week.
Step 5: Cook the ñoquis. Boil some water, add lots of salt (the chemistry lesson again). Drop in the ñoquis. We cook a little at a time and just keep adding as the earlier ones are done. They cook fairly quickly. You'll know they're done because the start to float. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and keep going until they're all cooked.
Step 6: Dinner time! These are really filling, so don't overload you're plate. It's served just like spaghetti. Put the red sauce on top of the noodles. Enjoy.