Frandura di Montalto (Ligurian Potato Pie)

Frankantipasti, contorno, Liguria, snack31 Comments

Frandura

I learned about this week’s dish, a Ligurian potato pie called frandura di Montalto, from fellow food blogger Josephine Wennerholm, author of one of my favorite Italian cookery blogs, Frascati Cooking That’s Amore. Jo, who lives in the Alban Hils outside Rome, says she learned about frandura on Italian TV and decided to give it a try. She really liked it and blogged about it. After I read her post, I tried it and was delighted, too. Now I want to pass it on to you, dear readers, because this dish is as delicious as it is stupidly simple.

From the tiny hilltop town of Montalto about 100 km (62 miles) west of Genoa, frandura consists of potatoes, thinly sliced and laid out in a baking dish or pie pan, then covered with a simple batter of flour and milk. Everything is topped with a generous dusting of grated cheese and into the oven it goes, to bake until it’s cooked through and golden brown on top.

I was fairly shocked when I tried frandura. Despite its utter simplicity, it was just as delectable as Jo described it, with interesting contrasts in taste and texture between the crispy umami of the batter and cheese topping and the creamy, mild unctuousness of the potatoes below. Another example, if we needed one, of the Italian genius for making something delicious out of the humblest of ingredients.

You can enjoy frandura as a side dish, antipasto or—since it also makes fine eating at room temperature—a picnic item or just a snack when you’re feeling a bit peckish.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6 as a side or antipasto

  • 4-5 medium potatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

For the batter:

  • 120g (4 oz) flour
  • 150g (5 fl oz) milk
  • Salt
  • A few marjoram leaves (optional)
  • nutmeg (optional)

For the topping:

  • 50g (2 oz) grated parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino, or a mix of both (or more to taste)
  • Olive oil

Directions

Peel the potatoes and slice them very thin, preferably with the help of a mandolin or the slicing blade of a food processor.

If you don’t plan to use the potatoes immediately, immerse them in water as you go. And when you’r ready to cook, drain and pat the potatoes slices dry.

Grease a baking dish with olive oil. Cover the bottom with the potatoes in a single layer of slightly overlapping slices like the shingles of roof. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt.

Lay down a second layer of potatoes in the same way.

Prepare the batter by whisking together the flour and milk until perfectly smooth, then season with a good pinch of salt and, if you like, a few leaves of fresh marjoram and/or a scrape of nutmeg. The batter should be perfectly smooth and quick thick, though just barely pourable.

Scrape the batter over the potatoes, then use a spatula to level it out, making sure to cover all the potato slices.

Top with the grated cheese(s) and drizzle generously with olive oil.

Bake the potatoes in a hot (200C/400F) oven until cooked through and golden brown on top, about 20-30 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Frandura

Notes

Frandura could hardly be easier to make so there’s not a lot of ways you can go wrong with this dish. One thing to look out for: regulate the heat so the potatoes cook through while the top browns, but not too much. Cooking times can also vary, depending on how hot or cold your oven runs, so start checking for doneness after say 20 minutes. And if the top isn’t browned to your liking after say 30 minutes, then you could run the dish under broiler.

Also to make sure that your potatoes cook through, make sure to slice them very thin and don’t exceed the two layers called for the recipe. You may wind up using more or less potatoes, depending on how thin you slice them and how wide your pan is.

Also make sure to be very generous with your seasoning. Potatoes need a lot, as does the batter. That’s especially true if, like me, you like to go easy on the cheese (see “Cheeses” below). Of course you can salt your frandura at the table but it’s just not the same.

Choosing the potatoes

As is often the case, Italian recipes just call for “patate” (potatoes) without specifying any particular variety. That said, I’d recommend yellow fleshed or “all purpose” potatoes such as Yukon Golds in North America or perhaps Maris Pipers in the UK. To my mind, these have a more pleasant texture than mealy potatoes, which I reserve for mashing or making gnocchi.

Cheeses

As for the cheese, traditionally you make frandura with the local pecorino made in Valle Argentina, the picturesque valley where Montaldo is located. But recipes will generally call for either parmigiano-reggiano or generically for “pecorino”. A few call specifically for pecorino romano, but personally I find it awfully sharp—I’d wager sharper than the local pecorino—so I’d opt instead for parmigiano-reggiano, or perhaps a mix. I used a 70:30 mix of parmigiano-reggiano to pecorino romano and was very pleased with the result. You could also try a milder pecorino such as the ones from Tuscany or Sardinia.

Variations

The original recipe for frandura was apparently even more austere than today’s. A water and flour batter poured over potatoes and drizzled with olive oil. No milk, no cheese. (Vegans take note!) But over the years the dish has become richer with the introduction of dairy. In fact, some folks like to go further and add an egg or two to the batter as well.

Also traditional is baking your frandura in a wood burning oven. I’m sure it lends a fantastic flavor just as it does for pizza. If you have one, lucky you. The rest of us will have to make do with an electric oven.

Most recipes call for quite a bit more cheese, something like 80 grams (3 oz). I found that the 50g I used here was quite enough, providing lots of flavor without making the dish overwhelmingly cheesy. And bearing in mind that cheese isn’t even original to the dish. That said, if you’re a cheese maven, feel free.

Montalto Ligure and the Sagra della Frandura

As mentioned at the top, frandura hails from Montalto Ligure, a lovely hilltop town with a population of about 364. Montalto is nicknamed il paese degli innamorati or “town of the lovers” because, according to legend, it was founded by two newly weds who had escaped from the clutches of the local Count, Oberto di Ventimiglia, to avoid the dreaded jus primae noctis. They settled in the remote spot with their friends and family.

The town holds an annual sagra della frandura, or Frandura Festival in the mid-late August. Besides the obligatory frandura tasting, according to this source, they also hold a contest for the biggest and oddest looking potato. Sounds like fun. If you’re ever in Liguria in August, I bet it’s worth a detour, as they say.

Frandura di Montalto

Ligurian Potato Pie
Total Time45 minutes
Course: Antipasto, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: Liguria
Keyword: baked
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 4-5 medium potatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt

For the batter:

  • 120g 4 oz flour
  • 150ml 5 fl oz milk
  • Salt
  • A few marjoram leaves (optional)
  • freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

For the topping:

  • 50g 2 oz grated parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino, or a mix of both or more to taste
  • olive oil

Instructions

  • Peel the potatoes and slice them very thin, preferably with the help of a mandolin or the slicing blade of a food processor.
  • If you don't plan to use the potatoes immediately, immerse them in water as you go. And when you'r ready to cook, drain and pat the potatoes slices dry.
  • Grease a baking dish with olive oil. Cover the bottom with the potatoes in a single layer of slightly overlapping slices like the shingles of roof. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt.
  • Lay down a second layer of potatoes in the same way.
  • Prepare the batter by whisking together the flour and milk until perfectly smooth, then season with a good pinch of salt and, if you like, a few leaves of fresh marjoram and/or a scrape of nutmeg. The batter should be perfectly smooth and quick thick, though just barely pourable.
  • Scrape the batter over the potatoes, then use a spatula to level it out, making sure to cover all the potato slices.
  • Top with the grated cheese(s) and drizzle generously with olive oil.
  • Bake the potatoes in a hot (200C/400F) oven until cooked through and golden brown on top, about 20-30 minutes.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

31 Comments on “Frandura di Montalto (Ligurian Potato Pie)”

  1. Whoa Nelly! Anything with potatoes and cheese is calling my name! I’ve never heard of this, but it’s another to add to my list! Thank you, Frank! (I think! haha!)

  2. I want to see the contest for the biggest and oddest looking potato! (Ok, I just want an excuse to visit Italy again…) This recipe sounds fantastic, and it seems very reminiscent to scalloped potatoes with the thinly sliced potatoes baking in a sauce of sorts. Either way, this sounds delicious and comforting!

  3. Saw the email and made it this evening with yukon gold potatoes and it is delicious!!! What a wonderful new dish. My parents are originally from Liguria so I was anxious to try it. Make it, you won’t be disappointed!

  4. Thank you for sharing the recipe for frandura di Montalto! It sounds like a delightful dish, and I can see why you were impressed by its simplicity and deliciousness.

  5. Yes – in the Baltics where I was born we often make a potato dish like this . . .hmm: let’s admit it Italians do most things with more flair than we do . . . 🙂 !

  6. Hi Frank! I saw Jo’s post and thought I should give this “sort of” take on scalloped potatoes a try! She’s a great friend of ours and has admitted to her love of potatoes. But then she teases me about my likingfor fennel something she’s not particularly fond of! What type of potatoes did you use? I was thinking Yukon Golds would work well as they wouldn’t break down as much as Russets? I agree…Jo writes great posts that are fun to read too!

    1. Well, I like both potatoes and fennel! In fact, I’ve been known to cook them together… 😉 Anyway, yes, I make these with Yukon Golds and they worked perfectly.

We'd love to hear your questions and thoughts! And if you tried the recipe, we'd love to hear how it went!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.