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Italian mashed potato pie

The girlfriend of a mashed potato lover somewhere in the great online beyond needed culinary counsel. They're in a "mixed" relationship -- she's an omnivore, he's a vegetarian -- and for her, the ultimate companion for a mountain of mashed is a pool of gravy made from unctuous meat drippings. What, she wondered, could she mix with the mashed and make her meatless guy happy?

The things we do for love.

My first thought was to build upon ye olde potato puree (not that there's anything wrong with that), enhancing it with like-minded, easily boiled and mashed cold-weather crops such as cauliflower, parsnips and turnips. The result is undoubtedly more nutritious, but from a taster's point of view, more complex in both flavor and texture. (Not to mention it's a brilliant tactic if you've got recalcitrant vegetable eaters at home.)

Then I remembered a recipe scribbled in an old notebook, a mashed potato casserole kind of thing with green beans that I have served at Easter in years past. Polpettone di patate e fagiolini is its long Italian name; traditionally, a "polpettone" is a filled meatloaf, but this version, from the northwestern coastal region of Liguria, is meatless. It's also not really filled or stuffed, but more like a potato pie that's gone to heaven.

Last week, I revisited this recipe, and I remembered why I loved making it in March, when spring is oh-so-close yet winter continues to nip at our heels. We still need a cozy blanket of mash, but the green beans, studded throughout with specks of fresh herbs, give us hope for the promise of warmer, longer days.

Polpettone di Patate e Fagiolini

1 pound potatoes, quartered (about 5 medium potatoes; I really like the creamy quality of Yukon golds for this dish)

Salt

3/4 pound green beans, trimmed

3 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup Parmigiano cheese, grated

1/4 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an oven-proof baking dish, about 9 inches in diameter (for more of a "pie" effect, use a round dish).Cook potatoes in boiling, salted water until fork-tender. Mash and cover.In a separate saucepan, cook beans in salted water for about 10 minutes, until nearly tender. Drain, finely chop and set aside.Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk eggs, then add both cheeses, whisking until integrated. When potatoes are cool, combine with egg-cheese mixture.Place bread crumbs into a small bowl and pour milk on top, allowing bread crumbs to soften.In a saute pan, cook garlic in olive oil for about 20 seconds, then add herbs and beans, tossing with tongs until well-mixed, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow beans to cool. Add to potato mixture, and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and add accordingly. With a rubber spatula, scoop filling into prepared baking dish. Top with bread crumbs. Bake about 40 minutes, until golden. Serve hot.Makes about 4 servings.
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