madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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potato gateau

crispy potato gateau

SAVORY POTATO PIE a.k.a. GATO’ DI PATATE.

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.

Recipe

  • 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.


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spiced grape jelly

magnificent fall colors in Umbria

I love October in Umbria. Soon the winter sadness will descend on us, but right now colors are working full-time. Everywhere is golden and red. Everything seems to taste sweet, chestnuts, pears, grapes. There’s wonderful grapes everywhere.

We are the lucky owners of a 1/2 century old vine-arbor. We don’t make wine with the fruits, too much of a fuss. We just leave the bunches there to capture the last bits of sun. During one of those mellow afternoons, I go outside to harvest them and enjoy the technicolor.

a gorgeous sunset from our terrace

I pick the best bunches, put them in a large bucket, sit comfortably with (dog) Google at my feet and remove all the stems.

Then I pour the cleaned grapes in a cauldron and heat it until the grapes start bursting. I subsequently proceed to sieve the grapes through a mouli to remove skins and seeds.

Next, I transfer the filtered grape juice back into the cauldron where I bring it to slow boil and let it simmer until is reduced by half. Finally I can make the jelly.

For that, I use same amounts of sugar and reduced grape juice (weight), powdered pectin according to package instruction, the zest of 1/2 lemon, 2 cloves and 1 inch cinnamon stick per liter/quart grape juice.

The whole process takes several hours. A small mountain of tiny wine grapes only yields a few precious jars. Every year I think I am crazy. Every year I hope I have captured some of the last sun in the jar.

grape jelly made with green and red wine grapes


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meat and spinach cannelloni

authentic Italian cannelloni, a feast

Warning: mistreated recipe! If you have any intention of using those chewy curly no-boil lasagna,  lumpia/wanton wrappers, manicotti tubes, tortilla, frozen crepes or other horrors please don’t even read this recipe. In fact, you might want to go out for dinner or make mac n’ cheese.

Like lasagna, this is a labor-intensive pasta recipe. It’s a dish of sublime goodness which deserves to be revered and prepared with loving care for the appropriate (grand) occasion. The effort will be totally worthy, I promise you.

The success of this dish is based on high-quality ingredients, a restrained amount of sauce, a relatively dry but wonderfully savory filling. By the time it is ready to eat, the pasta should remain al dente.

Recipe

  • 700 gr (forty 6- by 4-inch) fresh pasta rectangles or thin dry lasagna noodles
  • for soffritto: 1 onion, 1  celery rib, 1 carrot, all finely chopped
  • 700 gr (1.5 lb) good quality ground red meat. I use a mixture of pork and beef.
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 200 gr (7 oz)  sliced ham, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 500 gr (1 lb.) fresh spinach, blanched, dried and chopped
  • 60 gr (2 oz) finely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano plus two tablespoon for sprinkling.
  • 350 gr mozzarella or mild cow’s-milk cheese, sliced
  • 2/3 cup Bechamel sauce
  • 1.5 lt (6 cups) basic tomato sauce flavored with a handful of basil leaves

Schedule:

  1. Make tomato sauce and Bechamel
  2. Blanch spinach
  3. Slice ham, cheese and soffritto vegetables
  4. Make filling
  5. Blanch pasta sheets
  6. Assemble the cannelloni (see the full process here)
  7. Bake

If you use your own pasta sheets you will need to triple my basic pasta dough recipe. Make them the day before, let them dry completely, covered with a thick kitchen towel so they will not curl up and break.  Storing at room temperature is OK for one day, otherwise freeze the individual sheets and keep in a freezer box until needed.

As an alternative buy the thinnest possible lasagna noodles. Preparing the tomato sauce and blanched spinach in advance also helps with time management.

To make filling:

In a shallow heavy-bottomed pan saute onion, carrot and celery with two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. This is called a soffritto. When the vegetables are translucent, increase heat, add ground meat and saute quickly until just starting to brown. Deglaze with white wine, season with salt, nutmeg and black pepper and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse ham, spinach and grated Parmesan until finely ground. Add to cooked ground meat together with 2-3 tablespoon tomato sauce. Do not use frozen spinach, they tend to retain too much water. If the filling is too moist the cannelloni will fall apart during cooking.

To assemble the cannelloni:

Bring a large pot of salted water to rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Boil pasta 10 pieces at a time in a large pot, stirring lightly to separate, until just tender, about 1/2 minute for fresh pasta or about 3 minutes for dry noodles. Drain in a colander. Using thick rubber gloves gently transfer the pasta sheets on a clean work-top and lay them flat to cool. Preheat oven to  200 °C (400°F).

Spread about 2 tablespoon filling in a line along the diagonal of 1 pasta rectangle, top with a slice of mozzarella…..

homemade lasagna sheets used for cannelloni ready to be rolled

……then roll up to enclose filling.

cannelloni rolled nice and tight, ready to be placed in a baking dish

Transfer them to a baking dish arranging snugly in 1 layer. Spread cannelloni with a thin layer of tomato sauce, drizzle with Bechamel and sprinkle with 2 tablespoon  grated cheese. Bake in the middle of the oven until the sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes.

Let them stand 5 minutes before serving. Cannelloni are  ideal to serve a crowd, each piece just lifts out of the baking dish in a perfectly sized portion. In addition they can be frozen uncooked. Just make sure to thaw them completely before baking.

Serves 12-15.

heaven in a roll

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