Patate alla lucana

Patate alla lucana (Basilicata Potato Casserole)

In Basilicata, contorno by Frank34 Comments

Italian cuisine is not generally known for potato gratin dishes. But here’s one from the little-known cuisine of Basilicata that is sure to be a crowd pleaser: patate alla lucana, potatoes layered with onions and tomatoes, scented with oregano and pecorino cheese. Considered a side dish or contorno, I sometimes like to “reinforce” the classic recipe with mozzarella and anchovies, turning it into a light main course or one-dish supper. And while the tomatoes mark this as a traditional summer dish, I made patate alla lucana using canned tomatoes on a recent chilly January evening. It was perfectly delicious.

The name alla lucana refers to Lucania, the ancient land of the Lucani people which roughly coincided with the current region of Basilicata, but included parts of Campania, Puglia and Calabria as well. Lucano is often used today to refer to modern day Basilicata. The dish is also known as patate arraganate or patate raganate.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6 as a side course,

  • 750g (1-1/2) potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 500g (1 lb) tomatoes, peeled and sliced (or canned tomatoes, drained and sliced)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • Oregano, q.b.
  • Pecorino cheese, q.b.
  • Breadcrumbs, q.b.
  • Olive oil, q.b.
  • Salt

For my main course version:

  • 100-150g (3-4 oz) mozzarella or scamorza, or more if you like
  • Anchovy fillets, to taste

Directions

Grease the bottom of a baking or gratin dish with olive oil. Lay down a layer of potato slices. (I like to lay them in slightly overlapping rows, like roof tiles, but you needed be so “pignolo” if you don’t care about looks.) Sprinkle the potatoes with salt. Then lay down some tomato slices here and there, along with some of their juice, then some onion slices. If using, add the mozzarella or scamorza and/or a few anchovies. Sprinkle over some oregano and then grate some pecorino on top. Finally, drizzle everything with olive oil.

Repeat this layering process until you have run out of potatoes. Top the final layer of potatoes with some tomatoes, generous amounts of grated pecorino and a nice sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Drizzle olive oil all over, in a cross-hatch pattern so the crumbs are well impregnated with oil.

Bake in a 180C/350F oven for a good hour or so, or until golden brown on top and the juices that the tomatoes will have given off has (mostly) cooked off. If the top is not done to your liking after an hour, increase the oven temperature to 200C/400F and continue baking for a few minutes more.

Let the potatoes cool off for a good 10-15 minutes before serving.

Notes on Patate alla lucana

The recipe for patate alla lucana would likely work with any kind of potatoes. But I like to use either “all purpose” or waxy potatoes, the kind you would use for potato salad, rather than the floury sort (like Russets) for mashed potatoes. White onion is often called for, although I’ve used the usual yellow onions with fine results, and I imagine red onions would also serve well. Garlic is sometimes added along with the onion, and minced parsley along with the oregano. And you could add capers and/or olives as well for even more flavor. As mentioned, you can omit the tomato, in which case I would add a splash of wine or water to moisten the potatoes before baking.

The scent of oregano is one of the primary characteristics of patate alla lucana. Be liberal but but not so liberal that you overwhelm the other flavors . Oregano is an herb typical of southern Italian cooking, but it’s not used with quite the abandon as some people imagine, or as you might be led to believe from some Italian-American cooking.

As with other oven-roasted potatoes recipes, the final rest is an important step that you shouldn’t skip. The dish will cool off from the tongue-scorching temperature at which it comes out of the oven, of course. But even more importantly, the rest also allows the pan juices to seep into the potatoes and lend them extraordinary flavor. It makes a world of difference.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that patate alla lucana bear a strong resemblance to other baked casserole dishes called tielle we’ve featured from neighboring Puglia, in particular the tiella pugliese and especially the Potato, Onion and Tomato Casserole.

Patate alla lucana (Basilicata Potato Casserole)

Patate alla lucana (Basilicata Potato Casserole)

Ingredients

  • 750g (1-1/2) potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 500g (1 lb) tomatoes, peeled and sliced (or canned tomatoes, drained and sliced)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • Oregano, q.b.
  • Pecorino cheese, q.b.
  • Breadcrumbs, q.b.
  • Olive oil, q.b.
  • Salt
  • For my main course version:
  • 100-150g (3-4 oz) mozzarella or scamorza, or more if you like
  • Anchovy fillets, to taste

Instructions

  1. Grease the bottom of a baking or gratin dish with olive oil. Lay down a layer of potato slices. (I like to lay them in slightly overlapping rows, like roof tiles, but you needed be so "pignolo" if you don't care about looks.) Sprinkle the potatoes with salt. Then lay down some tomato slices here and there, along with some of their juice, then some onion slices. If using, add the mozzarella or scamorza and/or a few anchovies. Sprinkle over some oregano and then grate some pecorino on top. Finally, drizzle everything with olive oil.
  2. Repeat this layering process until you have run out of potatoes. Top the final layer of potatoes with some tomatoes, generous amounts of grated pecorino and a nice sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Drizzle olive oil all over, in a cross-hatch pattern so the crumbs are well impregnated with oil.
  3. Bake in a 180C/350F oven for a good hour or so, or until golden brown on top and the juices that the tomatoes will have given off has (mostly) cooked off. If the top is not done to your liking after an hour, increase the oven temperature to 200C/400F and continue baking for a few minutes more.
  4. Let the potatoes cool off for a good 10-15 minutes before serving.
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Comments

  1. I didn’t know this dish, so thank you for posting the recipe. Can you find scamorza in your area? I have not seen it here, but I was delighted to find some caciocavallo last week.

  2. What an interesting potato dish from Basilicata. It’s such a nice dish to go with so many other things (or even to eat alone!). My Calabrian mother-in-law makes something similar and as for oregano, she is liberal with it and even the one I have at home is from her from Calabria, but it’s somehow never too much. I’m not even crazy about oregano, but in certain dishes, it’s just perfect!

  3. Wow! A recipe from Basilicata. Be still my heart. And a very good one at that. The tomatoes may say summer, but roasted potatoes always speak of winter to me. Just delicious.

    1. Author

      Yes, I agree. It is a confounding dish that way! A bit like eggplant parmesan, a “summer” dish that is quite hearty and winter-like.

  4. Excellent dish Frank! We use the potatoes similarly (not stacked this way though) in fish “plaki”, a classic baked fish and potatoes in tomato sauce here. So this cheesy potato version is definitely a dish we’ll really enjoy!
    Thank you for another fantastic idea!

  5. I made this last night and it was off the charts. It’s gone already. Thanks!!!

  6. That looks beautiful! I saw a Calabrese woman make this dish on a Giallo Zafferano video and keep forgetting to make it. I might have to give it a try tomorrow! She called it Patate Raganate like you mentioned above. I’m really enjoying your blog. You know what you’re talking about and respect the way that the dishes are prepared in Italy. Buon lavoro!

  7. Potatoes and cheese – what a perfect combination. The type of gratin I had before never used tomatoes so I am very curious to find out how it tastes with the tomatoes. Will try it out soon! Thanks for the recipe.

  8. I’ve never tried or heard of this dish, Frank, but it sure looks and sounds delicious. Leave it to you to continue exploring and educating us on Italian cuisine.

  9. This sounds amazing, Frank, and I like the idea of adding anchovies to make it a main course. I bet it’s perfect comfort food for a winter night, and am glad you made it with canned tomatoes!

  10. I just love your q.b. — the way most Italians cook. Even mamma’s cakes were done by the eye and feel. Anyway, these potatoes look fantastic and it certainly makes a wonderful side. I really like the touch of the tomatoes to the dish. I can’t wait to make it. We’re having pork piccata tonight and I’m wondering if I should make this. We always have pecorino on hand and we do have canned tomatoes. Grazie!! Buon weekend. 😉

  11. A wonderful addition to a roasted meat or poultry dish from a spectacular, less traveled region of Italy. My grandfather was from Tricarico Basilicata and several years ago the entire extended family had the privilege of traveling there together. We descended upon the central piazza unannounced and asked if anyone knew of remaining relatives. We were graciously escorted to my great grandparent’s home where a third cousin currently lives. As you can imagine, it was quite a memorable day.

    1. Author

      It’s always a wonderful experience to go back to those old villages to find your ancestral home. My parents had an similar experience in my father’s home town. This was way back in the ’70s. Unfortunately the village was mostly destroyed in an earthquake and is a ghost town today. 🙁

  12. Gratins are wonderful — so homey and good. We serve them primarily as sides, but they make a great main, too. And your photo really illustrates why taking the extra time to layer the potatoes properly pays off — such nice texture and depth in that picture! I hadn’t realized until I read this that I’ve never had an Italian potato gratin. A deficiency I’ll remedy. 🙂

    1. Author

      You’re right, John. Gratins really are homey. If you do try this one, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

  13. I love this type of dishes, but I feel I have not mastered them yet. The inside often taste a little “boiled”, unless I use a huge amount of oil, which perhaps is the secret. To avoid that I tend to turn the content of the tiella few times over the cooking time and I then leave it undisturbed for the last half an hour.
    This is a good reminder- thanks
    stefano

    1. Author

      Thanks, Stefano! I think you may be on to something when you talk about the oil. Personally I have a heavy hand with the oil so I never have that problem, lol. 😉

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