Butternut Squash and Ricotta Gnocchi, Two Ways | Ñoquis de Zapallo y Ricota, Servido de Dos Maneras

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Walnut Cream Sauce by katiemetz, on Flickr We're celebrating one of Argentina's most beloved Italian imports, gnocchi! At their most basic, gnocchi take the form of small dumplings made from potato and flour, but with a bit of imagination, you can transform any number of ingredients into gnocchi. Add a luscious sauce of your choosing, and you've got one satisfying meal.

Last year, my blogging pals and I joined forces to spread the love about alfajores. This time, at the initiative of Aledys Ver at From Argentina to the Netherlands, For Love!, we decided to team up again to tackle gnocchi. At the bottom of my post, you'll find links to visit everyone's recipes. Follow the gnocchi trail and decide which recipe tempts you most!

Ñoquis del 29

Whether in neighborhood restaurants or at home, Argentines typically enjoy a heaping plate of gnocchi (ñoquis in Spanish) on the 29th of each month. The Gnocchi Day tradition supposedly came about because these cheap and filling potato dumplings were the only food struggling Italian immigrants could afford come the end of the month, just before payday. In the hopes of attracting prosperity and good luck, a one peso coin was placed under diners' plates while eating; however, these days, with inflation running rampant in Argentina, we've resorted to $2 or $5-peso bills.

San Martín Eyeballin' the Gnocchi by katiemetz, on Flickr[San Martín's eyeballin' my gnocchi. I guess even independence heroes have to eat.]

Humorously, government workers in Argentina have also been given the nickname "ñoquis." Elected officials frequently placed friends and family in positions within local government, but these ghost employees never put in an honest day's work. Nonetheless, they would show up like clockwork at the end of the month (around the 29th) to collect their pay, and as a result, civil servants came to be known as ñoquis.

Tips and Tricks for Preparing Gnocchi

Cooks and food bloggers routinely employ the phrase "little pillows" to describe perfect gnocchi. They should be light in texture and actually taste of potato, squash, spinach, beets—or whatever other ingredient you've chosen as your base—rather than flour. I've eaten my fair share of gummy, tasteless gnocchi, even at restaurants, which goes to show that for a dish with a relatively short list of ingredients, gnocchi can be a challenge to prepare well.

Close-up of Velia Shaping Potato Gnocchi by katiemetz, on Flickr Velia Shaping Gnocchi by katiemetz, on Flickr
[Daniel's grandmother shaping classic potato gnocchi with a gnocchi board]

And so I set about my first solo attempt at making gnocchi, a combination of butternut squash and potato, determined to achieve the ethereal, much sought-after pillows. Let's just say that the results of round one could only be described as little pillows if I tacked on "filled with lead bricks." Although my family ate the gnocchi with gusto (they're not the most discerning lot) at our weekly Sunday get-together, I was disappointed in my dumplings. They were floury. They were tough. And boy, were they heavy. I swear they were still doing somersaults in my stomach four hours later.

My initial failure prompted me to read up on the ins and outs of gnocchi, and I came away with this sage advice.

The Enemies of Good Gnocchi

» Moisture: The wetter your ingredients, the more flour you'll have to add to the dough. And too much flour leads to heavy gnocchi [trust me on this one]. Baking, rather than boiling, your squash or what have you helps on this front.

» Warmth: Warm squash/potato/etc. will require more flour to form a workable dough, so let your ingredients cool sufficiently. Later in the process, chilling the formed dough also cuts down on the stickiness and makes it easier to handle.

» Over-handling: The dough needs a gentle touch. If you overmix it, you'll wind up with tough gnocchi.

Uncooked Gnocchi by katiemetz, on Flickr[Light-as-a-feather butternut squash gnocchi]

Determined not to let a few lumps of dough get the better of me, I prepared to do battle once again, this time working off a different recipe that swapped out the potato and incorporated ricotta instead. The results were sublime—tender, pillowy (!), flavorful gnocchi. I chose to use butternut squash, but feel free to experiment with other types of pumpkin or winter squash. I've included two different recipes for sauces, a walnut cream sauce and a butter sage sauce. They're equally lovely with the gnocchi, so choose whichever appeals most to you (or try both!).

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Walnut Cream Sauce [Close-up] by katiemetz, on Flickr

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Gnocchi | Ñoquis de Zapallo y Ricota
Adapted from a recipe by Biba Caggiano
Yields 4 servings

Ingredients
1 medium butternut squash
vegetable oil, for brushing squash
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c. whole-milk ricotta, drained
¾ c. grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp. kosher salt, plus 1 Tbsp. for boiling gnocchi
1 1/3 to 1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Directions
Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Lightly brush each half with vegetable oil, and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast the squash until tender, about 1 hour. Let cool slightly and scoop out the flesh, discarding the skin. Puree the squash until smooth in a food processor. If the squash puree seems watery, transfer to a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until liquid evaporates and puree thickens. Measure 2 packed cups squash puree, and chill in the refrigerator.

In a large bowl, mix the squash, egg, ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg and 2 teaspoons salt with a wooden spoon. Gradually fold in 1 1/3 cups flour, taking care not to overwork the dough. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and, using your hands, gently knead the dough, adding up to 1/3 cup more flour if the dough sticks too much to your hands and to the work surface. Lightly sprinkle the dough with flour, and place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

To form gnocchi, tear off a piece of dough about the size of your fist, returning the remaining dough to the refrigerator while you work. Flour your hands and the work surface lightly. Using a gentle back-and-forth motion, roll out the piece of dough into a rope about the thickness of your pointer finger. Cut the rope into 1-inch pieces. Using a floured gnocchi board or a fork, lightly press with your thumb and roll the gnocchi to form ridges. Repeat with the remaining dough until all the gnocchi have been formed. Transfer gnocchi to a lightly floured baking sheet, keeping them in a single layer. Chill the gnocchi in the refrigerator while you boil the pot of water.

Bring a large pot of water and 1 Tbsp. of salt to a boil. Add the gnocchi in batches, and cook until they float to the surface. Let cook for an extra 30 seconds, and then remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon. Drain off any excess water, and add the gnocchi to the sauce of your choice.

Walnut Cream Sauce

Ingredients
4 Tbsp. butter
1 c. chopped walnuts
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ c. heavy cream
¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions
While waiting for the water to come to a boil, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts and sauté 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the cream and stir to combine. Simmer for a few minutes, just until sauce slightly thickens. Transfer the gnocchi to the pan with the sauce, and season with parmesan, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Gnocchi with Sage Butter Sauce by katiemetz, on Flickr

Sage Butter Sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Biba Caggiano

Ingredients
4 Tbsp. butter
10 fresh sage leaves, chiffonade
1/3 c. grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions
While the gnocchi cook, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter foams, add sage, and stir 1 minute. Transfer the gnocchi to the pan with the sauce, and season with parmesan, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Serve immediately.


Arugula Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce a la Ana Roasted Beet Malfatti Gnocchi alla Romana Ñoquis de Espinaca Potato and Ricotta Gnocchi

Follow the Gnocchi Trail!
Arugula Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce a la Ana from Ana at Ana Travels
Roasted Beet Malfatti from Meag at A Domestic Disturbance
Gnocchi alla Romana from Aledys at From Argentina to the Netherlands, For Love!
Ñoquis de Espinaca [link in Spanish] from Paula at Bee My Chef
Potato and Ricotta Gnocchi from Rebecca at From Argentina With Love

Read More......

The Artwork of F. Molina Campos

My introduction to the work of Florencio Molina Campos came in the form of a dishtowel, of all things. One day, while digging through a drawer filled with linens in Daniel's grandmother's kitchen, I happened upon a cotton cloth adorned with the image of a gaucho aboard a wild-eyed mount. The artist's unique style made an immediate impression upon me, and I vowed to find out more about the man whose name I saw emblazoned in the corner of the image.

[Name of work unknown] by F. Molina Campos

Florencio Molina Campos (1891-1959)

Born into a well-to-do family from the city of Buenos Aires, Florencio Molina Campos could have easily adopted the lifestyle and interests of a city slicker, yet it seems that his experiences out in the Argentine countryside ultimately shaped the course of the artist's life. Although his family's primary residence was located in the capital, Molina Campos spent a great deal of time on his father's estancia (ranch) in the province of Buenos Aires. Some years later, the family moved full-time to an estancia in Entre Ríos. A keen observer of rural life from early boyhood, Molina Campos went on to record the details of faces, clothing, animals, and landscapes in his artwork. Even the descriptive titles of his works imitate the speech patterns of Argentina's paisanos.

His whimsical, caricature-style portrayals of gauchos, horses and other elements of life out in the country, rendered in his unmistakable style, earned him fame both within Argentina and abroad.

La carrera de sortijas by F. Molina Campos

Some of Molina Campos' paintings of gauchos and assorted country folk may seem quite comical and, perhaps, even jeering, but the truth is that the artist regarded the gauchos with great fondness. Concerning Molina Campos' view of his subjects, respected Argentine art critic Cayetano Córdova Iturburu noted: "The unexpected was that the artist viewed the gaucho as the gaucho saw himself. He wasn't the poet's gaucho, or the historian's gaucho or the gaucho of the world of fantasy. He identified with them, and saw them through their own eyes, and looked at them with fun and affection."1

Con su permiso, don by F. Molina Campos

Molina Campos dabbled in watercolors, pastels and oils, but he found that tempera was his preferred medium. For the most part, he painted on paper, cardboard, canvas or wood, but he was even known to use ravioli boxes when other materials were scarce.

Boleando by F. Molina Campos

As a completely self-taught artist, he did not always stick to conventional wisdom when it came to technique, and his unique style frequently drew criticism from other artists of the period. For example, rather than following the rule of thirds, Molina Campos tended to place the horizon very low on his paintings, lending greater importance to the expansive skies he observed while living on the pampas.

El payador by F. Molina Campos

Molina Campos became a household name in the 1930s when he was commissioned by the Fábrica Argentina de Alpargatas, a manufacturer of traditional shoes, to illustrate a company calendar. The calendar made its way into homes and businesses across Argentina, turning Molina Campos into one of the nation's most widely known artists.

Va cayendo gente al baile by F. Molina Campos

On the heels of his success with the artwork for Alpargatas, Molina Campos received a grant to study animation in the United States. He consulted on a series of three films that Walt Disney was working on at the time. Although Molina Campos eventually severed his professional ties to Disney—he disagreed with Disney's portrayal of gauchos and traditional life in Argentina—the two remained friends for a number of years. Once Molina Campos quit the project, Disney decided to combine the three movies into one, an animated film known as Saludos Amigos. [Watch an entertaining clip of El Gaucho Goofy from the film.]

La ronda by F. Molina Campos

Molina Campos' work was exhibited at museums throughout the United States and featured in American publications including National Geographic, Saturday Evening Post, Time and Life. He was even hired by the American company Minneapolis Moline Power Implement Co., a manufacturer of farming equipment, to create a calendar similar to the one he illustrated for Alpargatas. He agreed to take the job on one condition—that he could feature his beloved gauchos and country folk.

La fiesta del 25 de F. Molina Campos

Molina Campos' paintings and illustrations continue to enjoy popularity, and today he's considered one of Argentina's great folk artists. The authors of Culture and Customs of Argentina sum up Molina Campos' contributions like so: " [he] achieved in painting what such authors as José Hernández (1834-1886), Benito Lynch (1880-1951) and Ricardo Güiraldes (1886-1927) accomplished in literature: the transformation of the figure of the rogue gaucho into a positive national symbol and a hallmark of Argentine identity."2

And most importantly, let's not forget that his work makes for some truly special dishtowels.

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Año flaco by F. Molina Campos

If you're interested, you can view the official catalogue of Molina Campos' works online at the Fundación Molina Campos website. Should you find yourself in Argentina, you can see Molina Campos' works up close and personal at one of two museums, both located in the province of Buenos Aires. The Museo Molina Campos de Areco, inaugurated in 2009, showcases 65 works, personal objects, photos, and books from the collection of Octavio Caraballo. The museum in Moreno, featuring more than 100 of the artist's works, recently reopened after a long-term restoration effort.

Museo Molina Campos de Areco
Moreno 279, San Antonio de Areco, Buenos Aires
Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 10am-8pm, $20 peso entrance fee

Museo Florencio Molina Campos
Calle Molina Campos (ex Güemes) y Avenida Victorica, Moreno, Buenos Aires
Open Saturday and Sunday from 12pm-6pm

Read More......

On Being Fat in Argentina

Are You Too Fat? Circa 1904 by HA! Designs, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]

Compared to the United States, shopping for clothes in Argentina is a breeze. In fact, most of the time, I don't even have to leave my house. I'd like to attribute this phenomenon to an increase in the number of online clothing retailers doing business in Argentina or a team of fabulous personal shoppers who've got my style down to a T and do all the hard work for me. But the truth is that shopping here feels so effortless because I just don't bother—I'm not going to find something that fits anyway.

It's tremendously difficult for me to find stylish clothes that fit me here in Argentina. I am 5'7" (170 cm), and I wear a U.S. size 18/20 (ARG size 48/50) or XXL (ARG size 5). Even when I'm lucky enough to find a skirt or top in my size, it often looks more like something my grandmother would wear rather than a vibrant woman in her early thirties. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've seen my grandmother sporting more stylish duds than the dowdy get-ups recommended to me in some of the stores here.

Many shops try to skirt the size issue by offering clothing in the dreaded one-size fits all. I'm hear to tell you that it doesn't, and no amount of coaxing or cajoling on the part of the sales assistant is going to make a too-tight garment look good.

In the three years I've lived in Argentina, I have bought exactly three pieces of clothing here. And it hasn't been for lack of trying. I've never been a clotheshorse, but I can assure you that in my previous life, I purchased more than one item of clothing per year. Let's just say that it's a good thing I like accessories, or else I'd never spend a centavo in the stores here.

Sharon Haywood, director of AnyBody Argentina, a non-profit organization dedicated to changing negative cultural attitudes about women's bodies, related her Argentine shopping experiences in a recent article:

Last year when I was searching for a wedding dress, all I had to do was observe the saleswoman's reaction when she looked my way and I knew that I wasn't going to find anything. Almost always, I heard the same worn-out phrase, "We don't carry your size."1

If I hadn't read Sharon's name in the article's byline, I would have sworn I'd written that statement myself. It mirrors exactly what I encountered last year when searching for a dress for my own wedding. The dismissive attitude of shopkeepers and saleswomen and lack of options transformed what should have been a fun, exciting shopping experience into a nightmare.

What's most disturbing to me is not necessarily that I have a hard time finding clothes that fit me, but that normal, healthy weight women can't find clothes that fit them either. According to a survey performed by AnyBody Argentina, about 65% of the Argentine women interviewed stated that they've had difficulty finding fashionable clothing in their size.2

Slaves to Image
According to a 2010 study by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Argentina ranks among the top 25 countries in the world for the number of cosmetic procedures performed, with liposuction far and away the most frequently chosen procedure.3 In fact, many health insurance plans here provide coverage for one cosmetic surgery procedure per year.

While many Argentine women opt for plastic surgery in the quest for a more perfect body, thousands more succumb to eating disorders as they strive to meet a near-impossible standard of beauty. Figures on eating disorders in this country are scarce, but the most recent data from a poll conducted by Argentina's Association for the Fight Against Anorexia and Bulimia (ALUBA) indicated that 1 in 10 teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 18 suffer from an eating disorder. It's also estimated that the prevalence of eating disorders in Argentina is three times higher than in the United States.4

High rates of plastic surgery and eating disorders suggest that Argentine women feel extreme societal pressure to be thin and attractive, no matter what the cost.

Dr. Mabel Bello, executive director of ALUBA, frames the Argentine obsession with beauty in the following manner: "We are slaves to image. Appearances are more important than who a person is. We have to look a certain way, be a certain person. This is our cultural imperative."5

Ley de Talles // Size Law
Back in November, I bought a cardigan—one of the three pieces from the sacred trilogy of Argentine purchases—from a shop here in Necochea. It's owned by a stout, red-haired woman who obviously understands that the entire universe does not wear a size small. She stocks a variety of sizes [up to ARG size 9] in styles that I'd actually consider wearing. Sadly, her shop is an anomaly.

*     *     *     *     *

In December 2005, a Buenos Aires provincial law known as the Ley de Talles took effect, mandating that all clothing stores offer an assortment of sizes from 38 to 48 (U.S. 8 to 18). In addition, the law looks for the clothing industry to standardize sizes, as sizing here varies wildly from one brand to another. A similar law was passed by the City of Buenos Aires in late 2009. Shop owners who fail to comply with the law face fines of up to $10,000 pesos and closure, while clothing manufacturers and importers face fines ranging from $15,000 to $50,000 pesos.

Clothing manufacturers and shops have opposed the law since its inception, and given the lax enforcement of fines, the reality is that most within the clothing industry pay little heed to the Ley de Talles. In fact, compliance with the law is estimated at less than 25%.6

According to Haywood, noncompliance centers around three separate issues: heavy resistance from the industry; corruption in the form of bribes to inspectors; and the fact that Argentines have completely bought into the "cult of the body."7

Obesity in Argentina
Argentines are quick to point out the obesity problem in the U.S., but what may surprise you is that Argentina doesn't trail far behind.

According to the report World Health Statistics 2011 from the World Health Organization (WHO), 31% of women and 27.4% of men in Argentina aged 20 years or older qualify as obese [based on 2008 figures]. The rates of obesity in the United States for those aged 20 or older are higher, but not by much, coming in at 33.2% of American women and 30.2% of men [based on 2008 figures].8

It appears that despite Argentina's societal obsession with being thin and beautiful, its citizens are losing the war against obesity. Although the same can be said of the U.S., in the last couple of decades, retailers have begun to recognize the trend and have finally started to accommodate the ever-expanding American waistline by offering a broader range of sizes. But as previously discussed, the vast majority of Argentine businesses have turned a blind eye to the needs of larger and even average-sized customers.

Given such abysmal rates of compliance with the Ley de Talles, the situation for Argentine consumers appears rather grim. However, AnyBody has launched a campaign to recognize Argentine clothing brands and shops that respect the diversity of the female form. Retailers that strive for compliance with the Ley de Talles are rewarded with a decal that can be found in their display windows, allowing shoppers to easily identify women-friendly businesses.

The women of Argentina, and indeed, of the world, still have a long way to go on many fronts. In the meantime, while we're working on the bigger issues, is it too much to ask that retailers stock clothes that actually fit?

[Photo credit: HA! Designs]

Resources

1 "Yes, We Carry Your Size," AnyBody
2 "Yes, We Carry Your Size," AnyBody
3 ISAPS International Survey on Aesthetic/Cosmetic Procedures Performed in 2010, International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery [PDF] 
4 Eating Disorders 101 Guide: A Summary of Issues, Statistics and Resources, Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders [Word doc] 
5 Battling the Beauty Myth in Argentina, AnyBody
6 Any-Body in Argentina: Seeking Size Law Compliance, Endangered Species Women
7 Battling the Beauty Myth in Argentina, AnyBody
8 World Health Statistics 2011, World Health Organization

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