Another example of the French Bourbon legacy in Neapolitan cooking, this gattò—from the French gateau—is a savory potato ‘cake’ made of mashed potatoes enriched with eggs, butter and grated cheese, a mixture you may remember from our recipe for crocchè di patate (Potato Croquettes). The filling for this cake is a combination of cheeses and cured meats reminiscent of the pizza rustica or the casatiello, two other Neapolitan classics. Its appearance, on the other hand, reminds me of a sartù, another French-influenced Neapolitan dish, only a bit squatter.
For a fancy occasion, the gattò can be treated just like an actual cake, baked in a springform pan and unmolded onto a serving dish, to be sliced into wedges. For a cosy family dinner, it can be baked and served still nestled in a casserole.
Either way, the ultra-filling gattò di patate is typically served, warm but not scalding hot, as a piatto unico—a one-dish meal—although a thin slice could also do service as an antipasto or perhaps a substantial primo.
Serves 4-6 persons
For the ‘cake’:
- 1 kg (2 lbs) potatoes suitable for mashing
- 4 eggs
- 75g (3 oz) butter
- 75g (3 oz) freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- A few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Milk (if needed)
For the filling*:
- 100-150g (4 oz) of mixed cured meats, such as cooked ham and salami, cut into very small cubes
- 100-150g (4 oz) of cheeses such as smoked scamorza and mozzarella, sliced or cut into small cubes
For molding and baking:
Steam (or boil) the potatoes until they are fully tender, about 20-30 minutes depending on the size and quality of the potato. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and run them through a food mill or potato ricer into a large bowl, as if you were making mashed potatoes. Add the butter, grated cheese, seasonings and whole eggs. You can also add, as pictured, the cured meats to this mixture.
Mix everything very well until the butter is melted and the other ingredients well incorporated. If the mixture is too stiff to work with, add a bit of milk, a few drops at a time, until you have the texture you want.
Now grease the bottom and sides of an 8″ cake pan (or casserole) with the butter and line completely it with breadcrumbs.
Spread out half the mashed potato mixture on the bottom of the pan,
then arrange the cheese and (if you have not added them to the potato mixture) the cured meats on top.
Add the other half of the mashed potato mixture on top of the filling and even it out so that the surface is nice and flat. (This is an operation best accomplished with your hands—just don’t let any of your dinner guests see you…) Top the whole thing with more breadcrumbs and a few nobs of butter here and there.
Bake in a moderate oven (180C/350F) for about 30-45 minutes, until the gattò is cooked through and golden brown. (If the top is not quite browned enough, you can raise the heat for a few minutes before removing from the oven.)
Let the potato cake cool off for a good 20 minutes or so before serving. Unmold the gattò if you baked it in a cake pan, and serve it just like a cake. If you baked it in a casserole, just bring it to the table and serve.
This is a dish that calls for mealy potatoes, the kind you would use for mashed—not the waxy kind you would use for a salad or gratin. In the US, russets or Yukon Golds will do nicely.
This potato cake lends itself to all sorts of variations according to town and family traditions or personal taste. The meats and cheeses can vary according to family tradition, although many Neapolitans will tell you that the filling for a real gattò di patate must include smoked scamorza. Unfortunately, that can be hard to find outside the old country; in the US, a smoked mozzarella is probably the closest substitute that can be found in most supermarkets. Provolone is another good choice. But you can really use whatever strikes your fancy. Same goes for the cured meats. Cooked ham and salami are classic, but little cubes of prosciutto are nice. Manuela Zangara of Manu’s Menu tells us that in her family their filling included mortadella, provolone and fontal.
*There are also different schools of thought about how to add the meats and cheeses. They can be sliced or cubed, both mixed with the potato, both used as a separate middle layer or, as shown above, the meats mixed with the potato and the cheese layered in between.
The number of eggs in the mashed potato mixture also varies widely among recipes. I’ve seen recipes calling for a little as a single egg per 1 kg (2 lbs.) of potato. The more eggs you use, the more solid your gattò will be, of course. Jeanne Caròla Francesconi calls for adding four yolks and 3 whipped whites, which gives the mixture some ‘lift’. If you want to serve your gattò like a cake, sliced into wedges, you might want to err on the side of more eggs. If you prefer to spoon your gattò on to soft mounds on your plate, use fewer eggs.
Like la parmigiana di melanzane, I understand that Sicilians also make a potato cake like this, which isn’t that surprising given that both regions were under common rule of the Regno delle Due Sicilie for many years. How different the Sicilian version might be, I’m not sure. Perhaps some reader will let us know…