Ana Valdemoros spends most days thinking about the savory meat and vegetable-filled pastries she sells at Argentina’s Best Empanadas.

Once a month, though, her thoughts turn to gnocchi.

In Argentina, the 29th day of every month is Ñoquis del 29 or Gnocchi Day. On that day, families and friends gather to make — and eat — the pillowy potato dumplings that have roots in Italy, but a long history in South America.

The tradition was born of necessity, Valdemoros tells the 12 eager cooks enrolled in her recent gnocchi-making class.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ana Valdemoros, owner of Argentinas Best Empanadas, leads a class recently at her Salt Lake City restaurant on making gnocchi.

Money was often tight the few days before payday on the first of the month. For many, all that was left to eat was a few potatoes, flour and eggs. Savvy cooks mixed those simple ingredients and formed gnocchi, an inexpensive but filling meal.

“At the end of the month, it was all that people could afford,” she said, adding that part of the gnocchi tradition is ”to put a dollar or peso under the dinner plate.“ It‘s supposed to bring good luck — or at least ensure that the paycheck will arrive on time.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gnocchi is made during a class at Argentinas Best Empanadas in Salt Lake City.

People are usually surprised to learn that large numbers of Italian immigrants, hoping to escape poverty, came to Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They brought with them many food traditions that have taken hold — from winemaking to gnocchi.

Valdemoros is keeping the gnocchi day tradition alive in Salt Lake City, selling her fresh, handmade gnocchi topped with Bolognese sauce on the last Friday of every month. She makes a limited amount and it sells out quickly. Regular customers know to order ahead.

She recently shared her recipe and gnocchi making tips — like adding a bit of cornstarch to the dough to make them light and fluffy — during a cooking class sponsored by Craft Lake City.

Even though she moved to the United States when she was 17, Valdemoros remembers making gnocchi with her mother, grandmother and other extended family members in Patagonia, the southernmost region of Argentina.

It was a good family activity, she said, as everyone had a job to do. “Someone mixes the dough. Someone rolls. Someone cuts.” There’s no such thing as a gnocchi machine, she adds. “It’s all done by hand.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gnocchi is made during a class at Argentinas Best Empanadas in Salt Lake City.

Today, the 34-year-old Valdemoros enjoys sharing her heritage.

That’s what inspired her to start Argentina’s Best Empanadas, For six years, Valdemoros sold the pies at Salt Lake City’s Downtown Farmers Market while also working her day job as a city planner.

After developing a loyal following, she quit her day job in 2016 and opened the shop at 357 S. 200 East. Besides the empanadas, she sells traditional alfajores cookies and other desserts.

Now she’ll also be known for gnocchi.

Potato gnocchi

  • 2 ¼ pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for mixing
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Toppings:
  • Bolognese sauce
  • Whipped cream
  • Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, stir in 1 tablespoon salt. Add peeled and cut potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, cool and mash with a fork or potato ricer.

Place potatoes on a floured surface and form into a mound with an indentation in the center. Sprinkle about 1½ cups of the flour and the cornstarch around the outer edge of the mound. Crack eggs into the center. Using your hands, combine mixture until a soft dough forms. It should not be sticky, so add remaining ½ cup flour (or more) as needed. Don’t overwork. Divide dough into fourths. On a floured surface, roll each section of dough into a rope about ¾- inch thick. Cut ropes into half-inch pieces. Roll pieces over the tines of a fork or wooden gnocchi maker to create the traditional curl and ridges.

Arrange the gnocchi in a single layer on baking sheets that have been sprinkled with flour, making sure gnocchi do not touch. Repeat with remaining dough, flouring the work surface as needed.

The fresh gnocchi can be used right away or within a couple of hours. They also can be put in the freezer while still on the baking sheets. Freeze at last one hour or until hard. Transfer to a freezer-safe bag and store up to two months. To cook fresh gnocchi, bring another large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add gnocchi in small batches to boiling water. When they rise to the top, about two minutes, they are ready.

Using a hand-held strainer, scoop out and drain as much water as possible. Repeat with remaining gnocchi.

To serve, place gnocchi in a bowl and top with Bolognese, a spoonful of whipped cream and grated Parmesan cheese.

Servings • 6-8

Source: Ana Valdemoros, owner of Argentina’s Best Empanadas