madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


potato gateau

crispy potato gateau


There are moments I so miss my mother  presenting one of her meals with that special look in her eyes. She had it when she knew she had made something really delicious. She would never compliment herself though, she was too modest for it.

She would simply mention offhandedly “è molto condito” meaning “it’s rich”. Then we knew she liked it.

And even if rich, her food was balanced. Always cooked to perfection with no ingredient dominating the others, a marriage of quality and skills.

In my life I have had the opportunity to travel the world and taste all sorts of delicacies. Nevertheless, she is still my absolute measure. I don’t need to make sophisticated dishes. If I can make a simple home recipe like she did, then I have achieved something. Her gateau was the best.

The gateau is a potato savory pie of Neapolitan and Sicilian tradition. Just like sartu, the potato gateau is a dish developed in the XVII century by French cooks employed at the Bourbons court in Naples .

For me it’s family food through and through. It has a smell of togetherness which brings me back to childhood and happy summer dinners . You only need a salad with it and a handful of cherries as a dessert.

A perfect Italian meal.


  • 1.5 kg (3 lb) potatoes, preferably new.
  • 60 gr ( 2 oz) grated Parmesan
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper to taste
  • 250 gr (9 oz) mild cheese (e.g. caciotta), sliced
  • 120 gr (4 oz) cooked ham
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon bread crumbs or gluten-free equivalent

Place potatoes  in a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and cook until tender. Drain, then mash the potatoes. Use preferably a mouli or potato ricer to obtain a soft and airy mash. Mix with the eggs, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper and a couple of tablespoon olive oil.

Preheat oven at 180 °C / 350 °F.

Butter generously a 10 inch wide ovenproof dish and dust it with breadcrumbs. Line the dish with a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick layer of potato mash. You need to make sure that the potato layer is compact enough on the sides so that it will hold the filling. Layer half of the cheese and ham on the bottom of the potato shell. Add an additional 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick layer potato mash over it. Add the rest of ham and cheese and top with the rest of the potato. Dust the top with breadcrumbs, a good sprinkle of grated Parmesan and a few curls of butter.

Bake for 30 min until slightly golden. Allow to rest for at least 10 min before serving.

Serves 6 as a meal, 8 as an appetizer.

PS. You can make the potato pie easily vegetarian by substituting the ham with chopped blanched spinach which you have quickly saute in olive oil and garlic to dry them and infuse with extra flavor.


potato gnocchi

Potato gnocchi for me are the symbol of selfless love. My mother made the best gnocchi, but she did not eat them, not even one. After all that work she would just have a plate of simple spaghetti while we feasted on the heavenly dumplings.

There is something esoteric about making gnocchi. So many things can go wrong. They can turn out too tough, floury little pebbles, or too soft and fall apart in the water.  My mum only ever made them in the summer with new potatoes. I know others that will only make them with old potatoes. Everyone has a theory about which potatoes are best, but basically you need your potatoes to be floury and dry.

In Umbria, as children, we are thought that we should not drink water with gnocchi, because they become indigestible.  Indeed my (Dutch) husband has this theory that they grow inside the stomach. Therefore we don’t water them, we accompany them with red wine. Better safe than sorry.

The real secret with gnocchi is to make sure the potatoes are  dry before mashing. You want to add just enough flour to obtain a dough. If the potatoes are too moist they will absorb too much flour resulting in the above mentioned pebbles.

I don’t make ridges on my gnocchi to “hold” the sauce. I prefer to finish them in the sauce like I do with pasta, I just don’t stir them as much.

The second secret is to make 2 or 3 gnocchi e cook them in a little pan of hot water before making the rest. This way you know if your dough will resist the cooking. If they revert to a puree you definitely need to add more flour.


  • 1 kg/ 2 lbs  floury potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 300 g plain flour (or gluten free flour mix)

Place the unpeeled potatoes  in a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and cook until tender. Drain, then transfer in a warm oven or to a griddle lined with foil  for 5 minutes or so to drive off all the moisture.
When still warm, mash the potatoes, preferably with a mouli or potato ricer, then mix with the eggs and flour. Knead lightly until smooth adding flour if the dough is too sticky to handle.  Do not overwork the dough.

Roll the dough into  cylinders about 2 cm ( 2/3 inch) in diameter. Cut each cylinder into 2 cm (2/3 inch) pieces .  Place on a floured tray, making sure they do not touch.
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Heat the sauce. Drop a third of the gnocchi in the water.  As they cook, they’ll float to the surface. Let them cook them  about 1/2 minute from the time they surface, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon. Transfer them in a warm bowl, toss with a drizzle of olive oil and cover.  Repeat with the remaining gnocchi until all are cooked. Now transfer them in the pan that  holds the hot sauce, stir lightly, add cheese if using,  stir some more and serve immediately.

Serves 5-6.  For one person you need about 35 gnocchi (200 gr/ 7 oz) .


potatoes in a salt crust

PATATE AL SALE. This is a completely no fuss dish, perfect for a larger dinner party.  In fact, it needs hardly any time to prepare, it can wait if someone is late, it’s fat free for those on a diet, and – to the non initiated – it even looks fancy in its own rustic way.
how to make potatoes in a salt crust

how to make potatoes in a salt crust

  • 2 kg ( 4pounds) medium-small potatoes
  • a few sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme
  • 2-3 pounds coarse salt
Preheat the oven at 200 C/400 F . Scrub the potatoes well in advance so they will be dry when you need to use them. Do not peel them. Place the rosemary over the bottom of an ovenproof dish and add the potatoes in a single layer. Pack the potatoes together closely and pour over just enough salt to cover them. Do not shake the dish, you do not want too much salt under the potatoes. Bake for about 45 min, or until they are tender (test with the prongs of a fork). Brush off the salt, split in two and serve immediately with a drizzle of real good EVO oil.
Slow cooking gives the best results, but the potatoes can be cooked at higher temperature (max  230 C/450 F ) for a shorter time. They keep warm for a long time under the salt crust, so you can prepare them up to one hour in advance
a simple potato dish enhanced by good extra virgin olive oil

a simple potato dish enhanced by good extra virgin olive oil


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