Sformato di Broccoli (Broccoli Flan)

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Sformato sounds far more elegant than “broccoli flan” but I think more people get the idea with the latter name. Vegetable custards have a long tradition – just think about quiches or frittatas – they’re just bigger and have crusts. Individual vegetable flans are a bit more elegant and work well in a fancy menu as well as every day cuisine. They are easy to “dress up” with bold colored sauces and play well with other items on a plate.

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups broccoli, florets broken into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces, stem bottoms trimmed and stems peeled and sliced ¼ inch thin, well washed
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled, germ removed, and sliced into quarters lengthwise
2 large eggs
2/3 + 1/3 cup cream or half and half
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
A pinch of herbs or spices, your choice
Butter for greasing the insides of the ramekins

Special Equipment:

  • 4 6-ounce ramekins
  • A baking large enough to hold all the ramekins with some space between them and deep enough to hold water half way up the sides of the ramekins without spilling over
  • A steamer insert large enough to accommodate the broccoli

METHOD:

Heat the oven to 375°F. Position rack in middle of the oven.

Butter the insides of the ramekins, being sure to get the entire thing, especially where the bottom and side meet. Set aside.

Bring a pot of water with a steamer insert to a boil. The water should not touch the bottom of the steamer.

Place the garlic in the bottom of the steamer insert, and then put the broccoli on top of that. Place the lid on and steam for 5 minutes. Remove the steamer insert from the pot and set aside, and allow the broccoli to cool.

Crack the eggs into a non-reactive bowl and whisk well. Add the 2/3 cup cream (or half and half) and season with salt and pepper and herbs of your choice. Whisk to combine well.

In a large kettle, bring 4-5 cups of water to the boil and then turn down to simmer to keep water hot.

Place the cool broccoli and garlic into a food processor or blender with the remaining 1/3 cup cream (or half and half) and process until smooth.

Add the egg and milk mixture and process until mixture is smooth. Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

Place the empty ramekins into the baking dish. Carefully pour the mixture into the ramekins. There should be just enough to come to the lower inside rim of each ramekin.

Tear off a piece of foil large enough to cover the four ramekins.

Place baking dish on middle rack of oven, being careful not to spill the custard. Once the dish is on the shelf, carefully pour the hot water into a corner of the dish until the water comes half to two-thirds of the way up the side of the ramekins. Place the foil over the ramekins and carefully slide the shelf into the oven and close the door.

Bake for about 35 minutes, checking after 25 minutes. The custard should be set all the way through – when you jiggle the ramekin, the center of the custard should not look like it is jiggling also, although the entire thing may move a little in the cup. Insert a toothpick to check for doneness – when you pull it out it should come out clean.

Remove the ramekins from the pan in the oven to a plate and then transfer them to a counter to dry off and cool a little. After 3-4 minutes, pick up a ramekin with a hot pad or towel and run a thin sharp knife around the edge to loosen it. Place a plate over the ramekin and invert the plate, holding the ramekin to the surface of the plate. Set the plate on the table and give the ramekin a tap or two with the heel of a knife. Carefully lift away the ramekin and you should have a nice round flan on the plate.

Garnish as you choose and serve hot.

Chef’s Notes and Tips:

This dish lends itself to additions and variations. If you prefer, you can skip puréeing the broccoli and just chop it finely, or even just leave it as is. For this method, divide the vegetables among the ramekns and then add the custard.

You could also add a sauté of mushrooms and leeks, and even a little cheese if you wish. Sautéed oyster mushrooms and leeks would be nice with a little soy sauce and ginger added to the custard.

Season the broccoli with cumin and sauce it with Curried Carrot Sauce. Or, make the carrot sauce with sage leaves fried in the carrot pan first and then use the fried leaves for garnish at the end, seasoning the broccoli with Herbes de Provence or some coriander and cumin for a Southwestern take. This variation would work with cauliflower also. For an elegant presentation, plate the flan on a pool of Curried Carrot Sauce (using thyme or sage instead of curry), and drizzle the plate with a balsamic vinegar reduction syrup – bold colors on the plate for the eyes and big flavors in the mouth!

YIELD: Serves 4