September 14, 2002
Potato Patty Surprise

When we were on vacation (the two and a half week gap in entries) I bought a potato ricer. I have since been eager to try it out and finally got an opportunity. I have tried this recipe before, but without the aid of a ricer it's not an exercise I care to repeat. The recipe comes from The Tra Vigne Cookbook and basically involves a mashed potato patty (or polpette) with a hidden bit of mozzarella in the center. The patty is sautéed until it is golden and crispy on both sides and the cheese is warm and gooey. Like a couple of the other Tra Vigne recipes we've tried, the description seems simple enough, but the details of the preparation can be tricky. Since the recipe makes four patties, I had a couple of opportunities to perfect the cooking process.

For my first attempt, I followed the directions from the book: cooking the patties in a non-stick pan in 2 tbs olive oil. The results were acceptable but not outstanding. There was good crust formation on the outside, but the heat didn't have time to reach the inner core of cheese. I tried to remedy this by leaving the next one in for a bit longer at a lower heat. The outer layer ended up heating so much faster than the inner layer that when I took it out of the pan the wonderful crust nearly slipped off the patty.

Today for lunch I tried again, this time with more oil. My thinking was that with enough oil (about 1/4 inch deep in the pan) I would be frying instead of sautéing and this would heat the inside of the patty faster. That was the theory at least. I dropped one patty in and watched in horror as the turbulent, hot oil eroded the delicate sides of the potato patty. I quickly rescued the now soggy patty; more oil was not the answer.

Undaunted by the stunning failure at lunch, I tried a third time for dinner. The result I achieved was the closest I have come to the perfect potato patty surprise, but somehow, I feel that I cheated. I cooked the final patty in as little oil as possible: only enough to close any small gaps between potato and pan, about 1/2 tsp per side. As I finished cooking the patty on the second side, I realized dejectedly that the cheese in the middle would still not be melted. Glancing up from the stove, I spied the microwave and, in a moment of weakness (or genius,) popped the patty in for about thirty seconds. What came out of the microwave was close to perfect. The crust had lost a bit of its crisp, but the patty was hot all the way through and the cheese inside was deliciously gooey.

Potato Patty Surprise:
2 big russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 oz. fresh (or smoked!) mozzarella cheese, cut into 4 pieces
olive oil
salt and white pepper

Boil the potatoes until they are tender. Drain and let cool on a baking pan for about 10 minutes. Dry them out in a 325° oven for another 5 minutes. Let the potatoes cool, then pass them through a ricer (or a colander if you're up to it.) Season the potatoes with salt and pepper and divide them into 8 equal sized balls. Assemble two balls with a piece of the cheese between them into a 4-inch patty. Make four patties. I then put them in the fridge until I was ready to cook them but they can be cooked right away. In a non-stick pan over medium heat, put as little oil as is necessary to lightly coat the bottom of two patties (or as many as your pan will fit.) Cook the patties for 5-10 minutes per side or until they are golden and crispy. For the finishing touch, pop them in the microwave for no more than 30 seconds to heat them through.