You never forget your first sformato. We were in that little trattoria on the north shore of Green Lake, absorbed by an inner glow that transcended the gusts of rain throwing themselves against our window. Inside the restaurant with its fabulous smells, all was candlelit and cozy.
Our waiter’s humor and his rounded Balkan accent were totally infectious: extra garlic for the head cold, sir? I think we have a quantity of that somewhere. Behind a long low wall, a grizzled man moved about the kitchen with quiet authority. By the time our appetizer arrived, we were practically purring.
A sformato is a thing of beauty. Somewhere between soufflé and cake, it’s loaded with intense flavor. My go-to Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon, lists numerous entries for vegetable infusions – carrot, zucchini, onion, spinach – as well as fishier options.
Back at our table the waiter hovered. Our first forkful was to die for. Light, assertive, delicious. Even the grizzled man looked up from his pots to smile. We raised our glasses and toasted what we both knew was around the corner: sun-drenched pizza parties, our antipasto platter graced with this new addition. We sat back satisfied. Bellissimo! It’s all good here.
Makes 4 small molds, properly called ‘Sformatini’
4 8-ounce ramekins or ceramic molds
2 teaspoons each butter and breadcrumbs
A rectangular casserole large enough to hold the ramekins
10 ounces of broccoli florets
½ cup of vegetable broth
2 ounces of finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons of olive oil
2 ounces of ricotta cheese
1½ Tablespoons of butter
2 Tablespoons of flour
¾ cup of 2% milk
2-3 cups of boiling water
Prepare molds for filling: Spread ½ teaspoon butter on sides and bottoms of 4 ramekins. Dust with seasoned breadcrumbs. Put ramekins into a rectangular casserole large enough to hold them in one layer and set aside. Preheat oven to 375°.
Pre-cook vegetables and purée: Put broccoli florets and ½ cup veggie broth over medium heat in a 2-quart saucepan. Turn once when boiling; cover and simmer for 4 minutes and then remove broccoli to a bowl to cool slightly. Meanwhile, sauté the onion in oil until it’s translucent; do not brown.
Shave ¼ cup of green broccoli buds from the florets and set aside for later. Put the rest of the broccoli, broth, onion and 2 ounces of ricotta cheese into a food processor and pulse for 10 seconds until chopped.
Make a thick béchamel sauce: Clean out the 2-quart saucepan and melt 1½ Tablespoons of butter in it over medium heat. Add 2 Tablespoons of flour and incorporate. Add the milk in 3 portions, mixing well and allowing to bubble before next addition.
Finish the filling: Whisk 2 eggs in a bowl. Add hot béchamel to the eggs in 3 portions, whisking quickly, until you have a smooth sauce. Add this to the food processor with the broccoli mixture. Pulse to blend, scraping the sides as necessary. Lastly, add the reserved broccoli buds. Mix them in but don’t purée: these will give a nice texture to your sformato.
Taste the filling and add salt and pepper if desired.
Fill and bake: Pour the broccoli sauce evenly into ramekins, to about ¾ full. Add boiling water to the casserole around the ramekins to bring water 1” up the sides. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes, until lightly browned and springy.
To serve: Let cool for 20 minutes, turn out and serve. Or, you can hold the sformatini in their ramekins for up to 3 days wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. To reheat, turn them out onto a cookie sheet, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake for 12 minutes at 350°.