Mashed potatoes may be the ultimate American comfort food, but Italians enjoy them, too! The dish isn’t as popular as it is on this side of the Atlantic, but the recipe is similar to the American version. We rarely made mashed potatoes at Bellavitae because the freshness and quality is very challenging in a restaurant environment. However, they’re easy to make at home and wonderful to eat!
This simple recipe for purè di patate [purée of potatoes] is from Bologna, hence the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pinch of nutmeg.
- 1 pound of potatoes, scrubbed
- 4 tablespoons of butter, melted
- ½ cup half-and-half (¼ cup cream, ¼ cup whole milk), warmed
- ⅓ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg (preferably fresh grated)
- Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water by about an inch. Over high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes.
- Warm the half-and-half either in a small saucepan on the stove or an oven-proof glass measuring cup in the microwave. Heat until tiny bubbles begin to form but before it breaks into a boil.
- Set a food mill over the still warm saucepan in which you boiled the potatoes. Spear a potato with a fork and peel the skin with a paring knife. Repeat with the other potatoes. Cut the peeled potatoes into chunks and drop into the food mill. Process the potatoes into the warm saucepan.
- Stir in the melted butter until fully incorporated.
- Stir in the half-and-half a few tablespoons at a time. Remember that some potatoes will absorb less liquid than others, so add enough to arrive at the consistency you desire. When about half of the half-and-half has been added, blend in the grated cheese.
- When no more half-and-half can be absorbed by the potatoes, add salt to taste and grind a small amount (1/8 teaspoon) of nutmeg and swirl in.
- Serve immediately!
Tips for Success:
- Mashed potatoes are best served piping hot. It’s best to make this dish last.
- Make sure the half-and-half is heated thoroughly in order to retain heat in the potatoes.
- You can also purée the potatoes into a double boiler if you’re worried they will get cold.
I don’t believe they use russet potatoes in Italy; the less starchy, more watery new potatoes are the most common. These smaller red potatoes hold their shape much better after cooking, unlike the starchier russet, which tends to flake apart. I have to confess, though: I prefer russets for both mashed and baked potatoes and leave the red potatoes for when we roast them, cook gnocchi, or make potato salad (Italian potato salad is delicious!).
Peeling the potatoes before boiling will render them rubbery. Boiling with the skin on helps prevent the potatoes from becoming water-logged and precludes starch and protein (the flavor) from dissolving into the boiling water. And peeling them after they’re boiled is easier – once you get the hang of it. Just stab a potato with a fork and peel back the skin with a paring knife.
Melting the butter – rather than throwing chunks of it into the potatoes and letting them melt – does make a difference. Not only does melted butter keep the potatoes warm, but it distributes more evenly and creates a creamier texture.
Adding the butter before the half-and-half also promotes optimal consistency. Water within half-and-half reacts chemically with the potato’s starch, and creates a pasty, gluey texture. If the starch is first coated with fat in the butter, this reaction is reduced significantly, resulting in a much creamier, silkier texture.
Nothing creates better mashed potatoes than a food mill. A potato ricer works well, but requires processing in batches. You can also use a potato masher, but the result is usually lumpy and heavy. A hand mixer can also result in lumps and you can easily over-process the potatoes. A mixer – like a food processor – aerates the food as it processes; something that’s not always desirable.
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