A sformato is an Italian version of a soufflé. This recipe for Sformato di Cavolfiore, or Cauliflower Flan, is a play on cauliflower and cheese. Rich with butter, eggs and cheese, one individual sformato is nearly a complete meal in itself, especially when it's drizzled with a spoonful of decadent fonduta sauce, a warm melt of thick cream and heavenly Gorgonzola. While this recipe uses cauliflower, one could just as easily have used the same volume of cooked spinach, broccoli or wild mushrooms — the possibilities are endless.
Since sformati are at their best when they're hot, and don't take well to being reheated, the batter can always be set aside and covered in the refrigerator, until the rest of the meal is close to being ready. The sauce takes only a few minutes to make. This is a lush little dish and makes an elegant starter for any special meal.
For the sformato:
12 oz cauliflower
1 cup whole milk, plus 1/4 cup or as needed
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp, plus 1 1/2 tsp flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnishing
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 bunch chives
edible flowers, for garnish (optional)
For the cheese sauce (fonduta):
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz Gorgonzola
Trim the cauliflower into small pieces, discarding the leaves and core. Add to a pot of boiling water and cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well and transfer to a blender. Add 1/4 cup milk, or more if needed, to make a very thick and smooth purée. Force the mixture through a sieve into a large bowl, and set aside.
Warm 1 cup of milk in a small saucepan and season with salt to taste. Cover and remove from the heat. In another small pot over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and whisk in the flour until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the hot milk and whisk constantly to make a thick béchamel, about 3 to 5 minutes. Then fold the béchamel into the cauliflower purée. Add the eggs, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, a pinch of nutmeg and salt to taste.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the inside of six small ramekins, or muffin molds, with butter, filling almost to the top. Transfer to a large baking dish and add enough boiling water so that it reaches two-thirds up the sides of the ramekins and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the centers are firm yet still jiggle a wee bit. Remove the ramekins from the water, set on a wire rack and let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, prepare the cheese sauce by combining the heavy cream and Gorgonzola in a small saucepan, and stir until melted and smooth. Cover and keep warm.
In a small saucepan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the sliced shiitake mushrooms and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, run the blade of a small paring knife around the edges of the ramekins and invert each sformato onto a small plate. Spoon the warm cheese sauce over each sformato, and sprinkle the top with a little black pepper, a small mound of mushrooms and garnish with a fan of chives.