The room where we were seated had one wall with a huge arched window looking out over the hills of Acqui Terme. We were sipping a delicious Barbera d’Asti and watching the sunset over the red tiled rooftops of the town. The menu was not extensive and although I understood most of it, I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d ever had a sformato, so I asked the gracious owner of the trattoria to explain it to me. As soon as I heard eggs, cream and cheese I knew I would be ordering this dish for my first course.
One bite of this creamy souffle-like starter and I was smitten. It was light, yet luscious and I didn’t want it to end. Right then and there I knew that once back in my own kitchen, I would be making sformati. The one I ate In Acqui Terme was made with a cheese that I wasn’t familiar with and it was wonderful. You can also add a pureed vegetable to your sformato base, along with your choice of cheese. Since zucchini are just coming into season, I decided that I would use them for my first attempt.
1 pound zucchini, sliced into rounds
a thick bechamel sauce (made with 1-1/4 cups milk, 2 tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup of flour)
3 eggs and 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
freshly ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
Bring a pot of water to a boil, add salt and zucchini and cook until tender. Drain and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Pat dry and puree in a food processor or with a stick blender.
Prepare 4 ramekins by buttering and lining with breadcrumbs. You can line the bottoms with a buttered piece of parchment to make removing the sformato easier. I did do this, but next time I think I’ll forego this step-I didn’t love the way the top of my sformato looked when I peeled off the parchment.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Make bechamel by heating the milk almost to a boil. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, add flour and whisk constantly for 2-3 minutes. Add the hot milk, continue to whisk until until you have a thick sauce (about 5 more minutes). If it seems too thick sauce, add a little more milk. Remove from the stove. Whisk in pureed zucchini and cream. Stir in the eggs and the yolk one at a time, not adding the next one until the first is fully incorporated. Stir in the grated cheese and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Pour the mixture into the prepared molds. Tap them on the counter to make sure they settle evenly. Bake in a water bath for about 30-40 minutes (this will depend on the size of your ramekin). Test with a toothpick inserted in the center. It should come out very lightly flecked for a softer texture. Remove from water bath, let cool for a minute or two and then unmold onto a plate. These are great served with a little warm tomato sauce. Serves:4
Photo courtesy of Franci Leonardi.
Via dei Dottori, 5
15011 Acqui Terme