GL's mother is from the Salento area of Puglia, right in the heel of the boot that is Italy. It's a place of vivid colours, from the crystal-clear turquoise seas to the verdant green of the pine forests and the rich red fertile soil. It is this soil that gives such an abundance of vegetables and these form the basis of many of the regional specialities. It's considered cucina povera in Italy, peasant food, but I would happily eat it every day. If you're lucky enough to go there, always order the antipasti della casa; one of ours comprised: stuffed baked tomatoes, minted potato croquettes, fava bean purée, swordfish carpaccio, little fritters flavoured with chilli, tomatoes and black olives, squares of artichoke frittata, pitta di patate (recipe below)...there was more, and all of it delicious but I'm getting too hungry to finish the list.
Pitta di patate is basically a mixture of tomatoes, onions, capers, chilli and olives sandwiched between two layers of mashed potato. It doesn't sound particularly appetising described in that way but just try it, you'll see. You can serve this in the traditional Puglian way as part of a bountiful antipasto, good if you've got a lot of people to feed, or I sometimes serve a square of it as a starter by itself. It's also good as a side dish. It can be prepared the day before and cooked when you want it. Not only does this make it easier if you've got people coming to eat, it actually tastes better when it's had a day or two for the flavours to settle.
1 kg potatoes
a handful of capers
200g black olives, roughly chopped
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
dried chilli flakes
Peel the potatoes, cut them into even sized pieces and boil until soft.
While the potatoes are cooking, slice the onions thinly, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions gently until soft. Next, add the olives, capers, a pinch of the chilli flakes and the passata. Mix thoroughly and continue cooking for about 5 mins.
When the potatoes are cooked, drain them well and mash them together with the egg and the parmesan. The mixture should be nice and smooth, without any lumps.
In an ovenproof dish, grease with a little oil, then spread half the potatoes on the base. Pour the tomato mixture on top, then cover with the remaining potatoes, making sure that the filling is completely covered. Smooth the surface and sprinkle over a handful or two of breadcrumbs and drizzle over some olive oil.
At this point, you can leave it for a day or two in the fridge if you wish. To cook, place in a hot oven (200°C) for about 30 mins or until the top is golden brown.
In Puglia, this is eaten warm, not hot but I'll leave that decision up to you. It even tastes good cold too.