This blog post will take us again back to Naples, Italy. I’ll admit that the cuisine of Naples just makes me happy. In large part it’s the cuisine that I grew up on along with the other regions my grandparents came from, but Naples in particular just makes me happy. So many associate potatoes with the Northern European cuisines like Irish, English, German, Russian, etc. but the winds of exploration brought potatoes as well as tomatoes over from the Americas many centuries ago. Italian cooking throughout the boot and it’s islands incorporates regional potato dishes from simple to more complex, yet, as with most Italian cooking the complexities are layers of flavors, not intricate and difficult cooking techniques only a top chef can master. This is what I think makes Italian cooking so popular, only a few ingredients, a little fuss or none at all and you have platters of outrageously fabulous food. Take the star of this blogpost..the GATTO’ (gah-TOH)a Mashed Potato cake mixed with some savories and eggs and baked. It comes from the kitchens of Naples, handed down from the old days of Bourbon rule when the French imparted some of their skills and styles to the wonderful ones that already were in place. For those of your who are familiar with the French language, GATTO’ is simply the Italian (Neapolitan) word for GATEAU, or cake. This recipe is basically 2 recipes in one but I’m only going to focus on the GATTO’. The mix can be turned into another Napoletana dish, PANZAROTTI DI PATATE also known as CROCCHE’ DI PATATE, breaded Potato Croquettes. Let’s save that for another day. My Mom made this in a springform pan which I used as well until Sandy took that sentimental relic from me so when I made this one I used a 9 inch cake pan. The cake is rich as it’s a mass of eggs, cheese, potatoes and cured meats. A little goes a long way. It’s beautiful when cut and served on a plate. Love the “action” shot of the diced sopressata falling out of the cake slice (I cut it while it was too hot, but, it is what it is…lol). If creamy potatoes dishes and Italian flavors excite you this is perfect for your palate. It’s time to walk into my kitchen and cook with me, my mother, and my grandmother (virtually as they both have passed but are ALWAYS with me at my stove).
FOR A 8 INCH CAKE PAN which will serve 4-6 people
Time: 2 days (hold on you thought I said simple, well there’s 2 parts..i truly believe that the mashed potatoes need to be made a day ahead of time and chilled overnight in the fridge..why? I’m going to get a little Alton Brown here, I could be wrong, just my opinion but it always works out..something about the moisture in the potatoes that just makes them easier to use when they are day old. Maybe it’s an absorption by the natural starches? Sounds good, I’ll stick with it.) On actual day of cooking, it will take about 1 1/2 hours.
2 LBS. OF MASHED POTATOES, MADE A DAY AHEAD OF TIME AND CHILLED IN THE FRIDGE OVERNIGHT. Make mashed potatoes using 2 lb. of peeled Russets.Simply mash with butter, salt, and pepper to taste. Do not add liquids like cream, milk, half n half. You can either rice them if you have a ricer, or mash or whip them well. Tightly cover and keep over night in the fridge.
1/2 cup GRATED PECORINO ROMANO OR PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO (MY PREF IS ROMANO)
3 BEATEN EGGS
3 TBS. CHOPPED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSELY
1/8 CUP FINELY CHOPPED SALAMI, OR SOPRESSATA (SWEET NOT HOT), OR PROSCIUTTO, OR PROSCIUTTO COTTO
1/2 CUP GRATED SMOKED SCAMORZA (IF YOU CAN FIND IT IT’S THE REAL DEAL)
1/2 CUP DICED MOZZARELLA (IF USING FRESH, PURCHASE IT A DAY AHEAD)
KOSHER SALT, FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER TO TASTE
2 TBS. MILK
BUTTER FOR GREASING THE PAN, 6 PATS OF BUTTER TO TOP THE CAKE
ENOUGH COARSE BREAD CRUMBS(PLAIN) TO COAT THE PAN
you can use an 8 inch SPRINGFORM PAN, or CAKE PAN. Heavily grease the panwith Unsalted butter (definitely use butter for this for flavor). Then coat the pan with a light layer of the coarse breadcrumbs. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Add all the ingredients to the Mashed Potatoes and blend in well, MAKE sure all the cheeses, meat and parsley are not CLUMPED up. Want to cook more professionally? That is one of those details that many times causes a dish to fail. Incorporating ingredients like this sometimes when not done carefully will cause all the flavors to clump up in spots and not be equally distributed throughout the mixture.. TAKE YOUR TIME, there’s no rush!! A well blended mixture should look like that picture above. “PAGEENZIA” (Pazienza in proper Italian, PATIENCE) would be what my Mom would say…that was a common outburst of her’s dealing with us kids AND my father…Alright, back to work now, after the mix is done press it into the pan keeping the top smooth.. Top with breadcrumbs and some grated pecorino or parmigiano. Today’s Naples will most likely use Parmigiano. The world I learned to cook from which is the southern Italy of the very early 1900’s used Pecorino for most things so that’s the taste I expect when eating this. Use either one, Pecorino Romano will always be a more sharp taste, Parmigiano will be somewhat nutty. Now dot the top with a few pats of the unsalted butter. Why unsalted all the time? Because this dish contains 3 different cheeses and salted cured meats. Nothing worse than OVERSALTED food, under is bad too, but you can always add more to adjust that, oversalted is a kitchen FAIL. There is no going back. Now bake this GATTO’ for 30-40 minutes or until it looks like this: I’m sure you want a piece. Well you can’t. PAGEENZIA!! which of course I didn’t have. No wonder why Mom kept saying that to me!! Please, let this cool for 20 minutes in the pan on a rack. Then remove it from the springform or gently remove it from the cake pan as you would remove a layer cake from it. Then invert it back onto the plate for serving..see, Like this:How great does that look!!?? On one of my Mom’s plate too…all is right with the world on this one. Now slice it into wedges for serving. Some recipe writers out there refer to this as a sidedish, ok, it CAN be but it’s more of a main dish. That’s the big difference with how us American eats and how they eat in Italy. Much of what we pile onto a table is meant to be eaten as a standalone I mean, this is a hefty group of ingredients and you really want to enjoy the flavors. OR add it to a buffet service. I like it being served on it’s own with some greens and tomatoes. That will be up to you. Either way, a great idea for something to be made ahead of time too. It reheats really well. Most of all enjoy yourself while making this and of course while eating it.