This part of the world is crazy about vegetable flans. If you've never had one I recommend trying one some time soon.They are easy and make a wonderful change of vegetable or eggy type offering. It makes a light luncheon course or a first course addition to a multi course meal. This time of year the local favorite is a pepper flan usually with a bagna cauda sauce to go along for a bit of a flavor punch up. I like that one quite a lot, but as there are so many people out there that tend to have an aversion to anchovies, I decided to make the pepper into the sauce to go along with the delicately flavored fennel variety. Piedmont is famous for their peppers, so I make sure to indulge. I think the peppers and fennel worked well together and seemed to be a big hit with some recent friends that came to dinner. Vibrant red, orage and yellow peppers are everywhere at the moment, so it's hard to resist using them as much as possible. The roasted red pepper sauce made for a colorful contrast to the white flan. This particular flan calls for a thin béchamel sauce. I added a few slabs of local seirass cheese to add a bit of interest as it holds its shape when cooked. It is rather like a ricotta salata, but not quite as firm. Flans here generally tend to be smooth through and through, but my preference is for a bit of texture, so I blend up part of the vegetables and leave some small chunky bits so you also have a better idea of what you are eating. The flan is still smooth and silky, but make the adjustments to your taste.
Sformato is a large dish that can be cooked in a souffle or ring mold. Sformatini are individual servings that can be made in muffin cups. We have aluminum baking cups here perfect for a nice presentation on your plate.
I usually roast my peppers first while I am preparing everything else. I serve the pepper sauce at room temperature and the flan piping hot, but of course, you can serve it as you like as it is delicious when the flan and sauce are at room temperature or piping hot.
or Sformatini di Finocchi (or Sformato)
For the béchamel:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
40 g /3 Tb butter, unsalted
20 g / 3 Tb flour
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
For the Fennel filling:
2-4 bulbs (about 1 kg / 2 pounds) outer fronds removed, inner part diced
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated cheese
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
Make the béchamel:
Melt butter a heavy medium saucepan
Add the flour, whisk together and sauté for a few minutes.
Whisk in the milk, bring to a boil and simmer till thick, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat, set aside.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
In a medium saucepan, cover the fennel with enough water just to cover and a big pinch of salt.
Cook, covered until fennel is tender, about 20 minutes; then drain, reserving some of the liquid.
Pulse fennel in a food processor or with a hand blender until finely chopped, adding a little reserved water if needed to make a smooth paste with some texture.
Heat oven to 325°.
Beat eggs in a large bowl;
Add béchamel and whisk to combine.
Add chopped cooked fennel, cheese, salt and pepper; stir to combine.
Butter a 1 1 ⁄2- to 2-quart baking dish or a similar size ring mold or individual tins or muffin cups with olive oil or2 Tb butter to coat and then tip in bread crumbs, swirling to cover.
Add fennel mixture.
Place dishes into a pan with hot water to make a bain mare.
Bake until sformato or sformatini set and are lightly browns about 20 - 40 minutes depending on the size.
Remove the sformato from oven; let rest for a few minutes for small ones and 15 minutes for larger ones then unmold .
Serve warm or at room temperature with a sauce if desired.
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
2 whole red peppers
2 T olive oil
1 cloves garlic, Minced if you wanted a milder garlic flavor, you could also roast the garlic
Flat Leaf Parsley or basil, optional
Roast red peppers, and then place in a bag to allow to sweat. Peel the charred skins from the peppers, then remove seeds.
Puree peppers with the garlic, oil, parsley and or basil.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add more oil if you need it a bit thinner.
You can adjust this as needed for more servings.