Budino di Patate e Mandorle

Potato and Almond Baked Custard Cream

For the past decade, out of the smallest restaurant kitchen I have ever seen, Dante’s in Bologna, has come some of that city’s most surprising and refined cooking. This potato custard is an example. When Dante suggested I try it, I was as skeptical as you may be. Yet if you try it, you will find, as I did, that the common potato makes an elegant custard with a lively texture.

Ingredients

  • ½ pound boiling potatoes
  • 2 cups milk
  • ¼ pound (about ¾ cup) shelled, unpeeled almonds, blanched and peeled as described
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus ½ cup for the caramel
  • 3 eggs
  • Grated peel of 1 lemon (outer skin with none of the white pith beneath)
  • tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
  • A soufflé dish, stoneware if possible, 3 inches high and inches in diameter, about quarts’ capacity

Method

  1. Wash the potatoes, peel them, and shred them very fine, about as broad as a grain of rice is thick. If using a grater with different perforations, the most suitable would be the next to smallest hole or, in a food processor, the finest shredding disk.
  2. Put the milk in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add the shredded potatoes. Cook for 30 seconds after the milk returns to a boil. Empty the contents of the pan into a bowl and let cool completely.
  3. Dry the almonds thoroughly with an absorbent towel, then chop them fine, but not to a paste, in a food processor or blender.
  4. Turn on the oven to 375°.
  5. Put the ½ cup of sugar and ¼ cup of water in a small, light saucepan and turn on the heat to medium. Melt the sugar and cook it until it becomes colored a medium brown. (For a more detailed description of caramelizing sugar.) Pour the caramelized sugar immediately into the baking dish and tilt the dish in several directions to spread the caramel evenly over the side and bottom.
  6. Break the eggs into a bowl, add the 1 cup of sugar, and beat them until they swell, forming soft, pale ribbons.
  7. Add the chopped almonds, grated lemon peel, Amaretto liqueur, and mix well.
  8. Add the potatoes and milk, when they are cold, and mix thoroughly to obtain a homogeneous mixture—otherwise the potatoes may settle to the bottom.
  9. Put the potato and almond mixture into the dish. Choose a flameproof pan that is wider and shallower than the baking dish. Place the baking dish in the pan and pour into the pan inches of water, more or less, depending on the height of the pan. Place the pan, with the baking dish always inside it, over a burner and turn on the heat to medium. When the water begins to come to a simmer, transfer the whole thing to the uppermost level of the preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour.
  10. When done, remove the dish from the pan and let cool completely before unmolding. To unmold, place the dish with the potato custard once again in a pan of water. Heat gently over a burner until the dish begins to be warm, about 1 minute or so. The objective is to warm up the caramel beneath and along the side of the custard just enough to make it flow. At this point, remove the dish from the pan, run the blade of a slender knife between the side of the dish and the custard, and invert the dish over a cake platter whose rim or shape will keep the liquefied caramel from spilling over.

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