Potato and Ragu Cake: Gatto di Patate e Ragu


When the weather starts getting a little cooler I go into comfort food mode.  Gattò di Patate is a one-dish meal that fits that bill.  Gattò like the French gateau means cake in Italian.  It’s another dish in Sicilian cuisine that is born from the influence of the French monzu chefs, while under Bourbon rule.  The gattò (or gateau) in this case, being a cake made of mashed potatoes and a meat filling that’s reminiscent of shepherd’s pie. The thick ragù meat filling, like that used for making arancini, is encased in seasoned mash potatoes, and the whole concoction is unmolded for a lovely presentation.

This is a simple dish to make and you don’t have to go through the bother of unmolding it unless you want to.  You can just assemble it in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.


Difficulty Rating:  Easy
Makes 6 servings.

For the Potatoes:
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into large chunks
3 tablespoons softened butter
1/3 cup grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
3 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
Pinch or two of grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Meat Filling:
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup diced onion
1 carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 pounds ground beef
1/3 cup dry red wine or water
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup frozen peas
3 basil leaves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)
Salt and pepper

For the Cake:
2 tablespoons dry plain bread crumbs
5 to 6 slices provolone cheese, cut in half
6 to 8 slices pancetta or ham, cut in pieces
Butter for greasing pan

Special Equipment Needed: 9-inch springform pan or 9-inch by 3-inch round pan


MAKE THE MEAT FILLING:  Grease the bottom and sides of the pan with butter, coat with breadcrumbs and set aside.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium- high heat.  Add onion and carrots and cook until onions begin to color, about 5 minutes.

Add ground beef and garlic, stirring to break-up the meat, and brown for about 4 minutes.  Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and stir to combine.

Stir in the tomatoes, peas, basil, bay leaf, and rosemary.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover with lid and simmer for 20 minutes.

The filling should be thick.  If needed, add a small amount of water during cooking to keep from sticking.  Discard bay leaf after cooking.

BOIL THE POTATOES:  While the sauce is cooking, place potatoes in a large sauce pan and cover with cool water.  Cover with lid and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Once boiling, remove the lid and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork.  Drain potatoes in a colander and let sit for 5 minutes to drain well.

MAKE THE POTATO LAYER:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Transfer potatoes to a large bowl.  Add butter and mash until smooth.

Stir in the pecorino cheese, eggs, milk, parsley, and nutmeg to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.

ASSEMBLE THE POTATO CAKE:  Carefully line the bottom and sides of the pan with two-thirds of the potato mixture, about 1/2-inch thick.

Arrange the provolone slices along the bottom, then the pancetta.

Spoon the meat filling on top.

Spoon remaining potato mixture on top, beginning at the edges, and smooth in an even layer.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes, until breadcrumbs begin to brown.

*Alternatively, you can butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and coat the bottom and sides with bread crumbs.  Place half of the potato mixture in an even layer on the bottom.  Arrange the provolone slices and pancetta on top.  Spoon meat mixture in an even layer on top.  Spoon remaining potato mixture on top, beginning at the edges, and smooth in an even layer.  Bake at 375 for 25 minutes, until potatoes begin to brown on top.

UNMOLD THE POTATO CAKE (OPTIONAL):  Run a knife along the edges of the pan and remove the springform ring.  You can serve the potato cake directly on the bottom of the springform pan.  To unmold, place a serving platter across the top of the pan.  Using pot holders or kitchen towels, carefully flip the potato cake over onto the serving platter and remove pan.

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