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I don’t need to propose on Leap Day, having already married my lovely husband in January, so I need another way to mark February 29th. Luckily every 29th of the month is ñoqui day in Argentina. On ñoquis del 29, people all over the country get together as a family to feast on these plump, fluffy parcels of potato. Many restaurants offer free ñoquis if you buy a drink or dessert.

Why ñoquis (or gnocchi)? Argentina is a country flavoured by Italian immigration in many diverse ways, not least in the food argentines enjoy today. Ñoquis came with the Italians when they arrived on Argentina’s shores at the beginning of the 20th century. Why the 29th? Some say the tradition of ñoquis on the 29th arrived with the Italians at the same time. It’s the 29th because this is the day before payday, when asados are mostly out of the question but ñoquis created out of potato, flour and salt are blessedly cheap.

A more poetic explanation comes from the legend of San Pantaleón, the 8th century patron saint of Venice. Pantaleón performed miracles in northern Italy, including assuring one farmer that he would have an excellent year despite his poverty. The farmer’s harvest was spectacular, and because Pantaleón pronounced his prophecy on the 29th this is the day people commemorate with ñoquis, the dish of the poor.

Tradition says we should put a peso or a banknote under our plate of ñoquis to attract wealth in the future. I haven’t tried this yet (hence the lack of millionaire status) but will do tonight when I try these ñoquis de batata y albahaca, sweet potato and basil gnocchi, which I just found on the From Argentina with Love blog. Sweet potatoes are a small departure from the traditional, but it just happens they’re what I have in the cupboard at the moment. And everyone loves basil.

P.S. I’m going to ask Mario about this later as I am not sure if it’s true, but apparently the word ñoqui in argentine slang describes a government employee who does no work but always turns up just before payday to collect his pay check. Not a lot of those about….