I was musing over the forthcoming wedding of Kate and Wills the other day and imagining what a nightmare a royal banquet must be these days for the planners and organisers. Can you imagine! — it’s not just a question of choosing a few dishes and putting a grand menu together, oh no, you’ve got to take into account how ‘gastronomically diverse’ the wedding guests are going to be. There are bound to be vegetarians, and not just vegetarians but vegans too, and then there are those who cannot eat pork, and then there are those who are celiac, and then there are those who have intolerances and finally those who are beset by allergies. And then of top of that, you’ve got make the menu as ‘British’ as possible because royal weddings are as patriotic an event as you can get. Some things never change.
Flash back to 1768 and picture, if you will then, the Italian brigade of kitchen staff vying with the newcomers, the French chefs, all banding together to plan and prepare for the wedding of Marie Caroline (sister of Marie Antoinette) to Ferdinand, King of Naples. There is a dish that is typical of the Campania/Naples region called ‘gattò di patate’ made up of mashed potatoes, eggs, butter, cheese and ham. And it is accepted historical kitchen lore that the dish was specifically ‘invented’ on the occasion of this royal wedding.
It is unclear whether the inventors of the dish were the French or the Italian chefs at court but it is generally agreed that that the dish was indeed created in the royal kichens of Naples and that all the ingredients, save for the very French use of butter of course, were all available locally, all very Sourced-in-Kingdom-of-Naples.
The name ‘gattò’ is a corruption of the French word ‘gateau’ and is not the only kitchen term to have found its way into the Neapolitan culinary parlance … ‘gattò mariaggio’ is what became of ‘gateau du mariage’ and the appellation ‘Monzù’ for a high-ranking chef is how ‘Monsieur’ was rendered in pidgin; croquettes became crocchè and ragout became ragù. One of the most elaborate, fancy and famous of Neapolitan monzu-inspired dishes is the meatball-filled rice-cake ‘sartù’ which probably derives its name from the French ‘surtout’. It’s amazing what a royal wedding can spark off, isn’t it!
Anyway, if gattò di patate was good enough for Marie Caroline and Ferdinand, it’s good enough for me! I love it and so does all the rest of the family. It can be eaten hot but it’s usually eaten at room temperature. It can be a meal in itself, accompanied by a crisp and rich salad. Fantastic for stand-up dinners, for picnics and for parties.
POTATOES – THE MAIN INGREDIENT
Boil some potatoes (as many as you are going to need, be sensible), drain them, and mash them. There is no need to worry too much about the consistency of the mash, we are not making a purée of mashed potatoes.
Shave some butter … quite a lot of butter actually … in fact, loads of butter … into the mash. This is for a wedding banquet remember, no one is on a diet. One variation of this recipe calls for some milk. I don’t think it needs it, but you decide for yourself.
THE OTHER INGREDIENTS
Here on the table are the rest of the ingredients. Two eggs, ordinary ham cut up into small squares, slices of buffalo mozzarella that has been drained for a bit to get rid of excess liquid (we don’t want our gattò get soggy), grated parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs (in the white canister behind the ham). On the right is the oven dish.
ASSEMBLING THE GATTO’
And this is what it looks like when sliced … silly me, I didn’t take any other photos that would have done justice to this most royal of ‘gateaux’ — the potato cake known as ‘gattò di patate’. Try it some time — I promise you, you won’t regret it!