Top 5 Mamma's Napoli Recipes - Gatto'
It may come to a surprise to many, but since Napoli (Naples) was the capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies for centuries, and that Kingdom was mostly in the hands of the French royalty, an inordinate number of words in the characteristic Neapolitan dialect have French roots. Indeed, it is sometimes said that Neapolitans today speak better French than a Marsillian from the 17th century.
So many French idioms have found their way into modern Neapolitan that it's sometimes hard to tell where the French ends and the Neapolitan begins. One of the most striking words is the Neapolitan Gatto' which differs significantly from Gatto (without the emphasis on the o) that means cat. The Gatto' is pronounced in exactly the same fashion as Gateau, which is the French for a pie!
However, when the Neapolitans think of pie it's nothing at all like the shortening flaky pastry surrounding a sweet or savory filling as it's currently understood to be in the Anglo Saxon world. A Neapolitan pie is not only something that truly has no parallel in North American culture, but has to be one of the most delicious and delectable recipes in all of Campania.
The Gatto' is a form of a crustless mashed potato pie, redolent with Parmigiano Reggiano, packed with delicious nuggets, and flowing with melted mozzarella and provolone cheeses. A Gatto' is the humble potato taken to its highest culinary form and it's a dish that once you taste, will never leave your memory.
Making a Gatto' in Mamma's exact time-honored recipe is very simple. First make mashed potatoes. Although the red type of boiler potato that is very common in North America is generally not common at all in Naples, I find that they hold their texture quite well and have a very mellow, restrained flavor which works very well to complement the very strong nuggets that are spread like golden treasure through the Gatto' itself.
Boil the peeled potatoes until they're fork tender. I'd suggest you do 5 pounds of them once peeled because the best Gatto' is a big Gatto'. And believe you me, you will find that your guests with the lightest possible appetites... you know... the ones that survive on what a would starve a sparrow and are constantly complaining about the fact that they've gained so much weight that they can barely squeeze into a size four dress... yeah those ones... they're the ones that will be gulping down the Gatto' in such overwhelmingly large bites that you'll think that they had just come home from 39 days on Survivor without any fishing gear.
Having said all that, here come the ingredients!
5 pounds peeled boiling potatoes
8 ounces of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
4 egg yolks
8 ounces of genoa salami, diced
8 ounces of cooked ham, diced
8 ounces of mozzarella di bufala cheese, shredded
4 ounces of smoked provolone cheese, shredded
1 bunch of Italian flat leaved parsley, chiffonaded
Fresh bread crumbs
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Mash the potatoes with a peeler and don't you dare add butter. Mamma believes that butter is a dishonorable Northern Italian perversion by those Savoyan invaders which has no place in her kitchen, and we are trying to honor her traditions here, so stick that stick back in the fridge.
Once the potatoes are 90% smooth, add about two ounces of extra virgin olive oil, four egg yolks, and a full 8 ounce cup of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. No, not that powdery anthrax that comes out of a Kraft container, but only real Parmigiano Reggiano that you've grated yourself. If it doesn't have PARMIGIANO REGGIANO burned into the outer wax coating it is not Parmigiano Reggiano. So don't use it! Seek out the real stuff, pay the price, and truly enjoy the superlative flavor!
And no, Grana Padano is a nice cheese but it is not Parmigiano Reggiano! Got it? Good!
Now that you have all these ingredients in the mash, continue mashing away until you have a smooth, thick, lump-less bowl of mashed potatoes.
At this point fold in 8 ounces of genoa salami and 8 ounces of cooked ham (Black forest works really well) that you've peeled and diced up into chunks less than half an inch in each dimension. Take an entire bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley (not that frilly American stuff), remove all the leaves, chiffonade them all (cut them up into small strips) and toss that in as well.
Now take a big round roasting pan, coat it with about an eighth of an inch of fresh bread crumbs and spread half of that potato mixture into the bottom of the pan on top of the bread crumbs until it's even. At this point, take 8 ounces of mozzarella cheese (please go with the real mozzarella di bufala and not those white waxy bricks sold encased in plastic at Safeway), and 4 ounces of smoked provolone, shred the cheeses together and form a big mound in the middle of the Gatto'. If you've covered the central two thirds of the potato mixture in the base of the pan you're doing it right.
Now take the rest of the potato mixture and place it on top to make what looks like a huge potato cake. Make a grid pattern all over the top with the tines of a big fork. Now cover the top with another eighth of an inch of fresh bread crumbs and then drizzle a couple of ounces of extra virgin olive oil all over the top until it's just lightly moistened.
Plunk into a hot oven, around 400 F / 200 C for a full hour. The Gatto' is done when the top is golden brown and just barely on the verge of burning the tips of the tined ridges.
Turn off the oven and let it sit in there with the door closed for at least 45 minutes. Serve immediately (this provides the perfect temperature) by cutting into pie wedges. Don't be shy, make your wedges big since your guests will gobble this up like it's the greatest thing they've ever tasted... which it very well may be!
Check out all of Mamma's Top 5 Recipes From Napoli:
Top 5 Mamma's Napoli Recipes - Gatto'
Top 5 Mamma's Napoli Recipes - Zucchini A Scapece
Top 5 Mamma's Napoli Recipes - Eggplant Parmesan
Top 5 Mamma's Napoli Recipes - Rice Sartu'
Top 5 Mamma's Napoli Recipes - Ragu' Sauce
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