I’m sure that, like all simple and obvious recipes, it has been invented many times over. All that was required was a small baking dish containing a layer of crab meat and a topping of mashed potato, each classically unadorned. While the baking dish was pre-heating under a low grill, the white crab meat was gently sweated in “the best butter ”, then the brown meat stirred in at the last minute to remain fully liquid, with the final addition of a small dollop of Raines smatana (sour cream minceur), a squirt of lemon juice and a modicum of salt and pepper.
A couple of large mealy Cyprus potatoes had been previously peeled, boiled and mashed over low heat with a generous square of butter and enough milk to make them creamy, then seasoned to taste. (I gave myself the anticipatory treat of test-tasting the crab and potato together, to make certain they were compatibly seasoned. It required a second generous sample to be sure.)
The baking dish was topped with the mashed potato, forked for texture and then browned under a hot grill for a couple of minutes, the potato protecting the crab from over-cooking. The result was inviting to look at and, most important, allowed the flavour of the crab to come through with a vividness that preserved its exceptional quality. Sometimes less is more.
A simple side salad accompanied it: a round dish with a circle of small inner leaves of round lettuce, each topped with a slice of vine-ripened tomato, lightly sugared, slightly moistened with a few drops of Alighieri olive oil and balsamic vinegar (produced by Dante’s family since 1353) and topped with a discrete sprinkling of salad herbs.
(c)1999 John Whiting