Gatto’ di patate (Neapolitan potato, cheese and salame savory cake)

Gatto’ di patate… a.k.a. Neapolitan potato savory cake. The plain translation  does not do justice to the deliciousness of this classic dish, an over the top layered ‘cake’ of cheesy, eggy, mashed potatoes, mozzarella and mildly hot salame – the perfect comfort food.
Traditionally it was eaten warm or at room temperature as a (somewhat hefty) antipasto. These days most Italians would have it as a great supper dish that requires nothing else but perhaps a sharp green salad to counterbalance all that gooey richness. It is what we Italians call piatto unico – a one dish meal. Once out of the oven, the flavours need some time to settle and mingle, so do not eat piping hot. It also makes perfect picnic food – once cold, it can be easily cut into very portable slices.

Gattò is the local vulgarization of the French gateaux  (cake): there are actually few dishes in the Italian repertoire that bear connections to French cuisine, at least in their naming. From the mid-18th century,  Italy’s various royal and noble families (Italy was a patchworks of kingdoms well into the 19th century) started employing French chefs as a sign of distinction and this led to the introduction of French cookery terms that were often then quickly transformed into the local vernacular: for instance ragù, which comes from the French rogout. Gattò di patate is a good example: a French-derived name for a dish that was then prepared with local ingredients (except for the butter): mozzarella, fresh or smoked, Pecorino or Parmesan, local hot salame.

This version of gattò comes from a splendid book, La Cucina Napoletana (1965) by Jeanne Carola Francesconi, considered as the bible of Neapolitan cooking

Gattò di patate
Neapolitan potato, cheese and salame savory cake

for 6-8

floury potatoes – 1.5kg
unsalted butter – 100g +  extra for greasing the tin + extra for the top, at room temperature
grated Parmesan – 100g
grated Pecorino Romano – 50g
eggs – 3 plus one yolk
Napoli salame or Parma ham – 100g, cut into thick slices and then cubed
chopped parsley – 3-4 tablespoons
milk – 60 ml, only if necessary
dry, unflavored breadcrumbs – enough to coat the tin + extra for the top
smoked scamorza– 100g, sliced
mozzarella – 100g, drained and sliced

A cake tin with a removable base 25 cm in diameter, greased with butter and coated with some of the breadcrumbs

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C°/350 F°.

Peel, steam and mash the potatoes (a potato ricer does the best job), beat them with a wooden spoon until they are completely smooth.

Add the butter, Parmesan, Pecorino, eggs+yolk, the salame or ham, parsley, salt, pepper. Add a little milk if the mash looks too stiff.

Pour a little more than half into the tin, without dislodging the breadcrumbs.
I use the palm of my hands here to press the mix in place: try to have some potato mix also up the wall of the tin.

Add the mozzarella and the scamorza and cover with the remaining potato mix.

Scatter the top with breadcrumbs and cover with slivers of butter. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the gattò looks deep golden and is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let it rest for half an hour before eating, loosely covered with tinfoil.

There are endless variations of this dish, up and down Italy. I would dare say that each family has its own version – it really depends on the ingredients available and personal taste. Here are a few suggestions:

Add a thin layer of béchamel sauce and/or some ricotta in the middle
Add prosciutto cotto (Italian plain cooked ham) and/or cubed mortadella instead of the salame/ham
Insert sliced soft boiled eggs in the middle, or cooked vegetables: spinach, mushrooms, peas
Add a thick tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil in the middle
Use fontina or taleggio cheese instead of the mozzarella and scamorza: this would have a more Northern Italy feel and I would use plain cooked ham here instead of anything spicy

A curiosity: gattò with the accent refers to this cake, the word gatto without the accent means cat. Cat cake can be delicious too of course.

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