Warm Cauliflower Sformato

Recently Garden & Gun magazine published a list of the 50 best Southern dishes. Best side, best meat, best seafood. Generally, the best dish to eat in the South. Not surprisingly, New Orleans and the state of Louisiana made the list numerous times with nods to Cochon Butcher, Galatoire’s and many more.

Charleston, South Carolina another city abuzz with culinary innovation (and some of the country’s best restaurants) made the list and then some. If you keep up with new and exciting restaurants, Sean Brock’s Husk should be a familiar name (best cornbread!), but it was the Warm Cauliflower Sformatino at Ken Vedrinski’s Lucca that caught my attention. 

Here’s what Garden & Gun had to say about the dish:

“The custard consistency of this antipasto dish is downright dessertlike; as you sink a fork into the arugula-topped ball of silky cauliflower, a bright yellow organic egg yolk oozes out.”

Not to mention the Parmesan and pancetta topping!

Oh my.

So, what is a Sformatino you ask? The short version: a sformatino or sformato is a savory, dense, souffle like dish made of an egg base and steam cooked in a bain marie. The water bath keeps the dish from drying out and the density of the custard prevents the dish from collapsing as a souffle is want to do.

Having no idea how to go about creating a Warm Cauliflower Sformatino of my own, I hit the internets and came across Chef Adam Weisell’s version from the New York Times. His version calls for a topping of a creamy, dense fonduta sauce, but we substituted the sauce with thinly sliced parmesan, crispy pancetta and crumbly sage leaves. To give the dish a punch of color we used yellow cauliflower. If you can find it, try purple cauliflower.

So, how was it? My homemade sformato was creamy and dense with a powerful flavor of cauliflower and parmesan. The sage and pancetta gave the rich custard a nice foil and by serving it atop a bed of bitter greens, such as raddichio or endive, I was able to highlight the silky taste of the sformato. I’m sure it doesn’t even begin to compare to the original, but it’s a pretty good try.

Here’s Adam Weisell’s version from the New York Times (minus the fonduta):

Califlower Sformato (serves 4)

Half a large head (about 12 ounces) cauliflower
1 cup milk, plus 1/4 cup or as needed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablepoons, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnishing
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
Unflavored nonstick spray
cracked or coarse black pepper, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place a large pot of lightly salted water over high heat to bring to a boil. Cut the half head of cauliflower into quarters, removing the outer leaves and the tougher part of the stem. With a sharp knife, cut the florets into 1 inch pieces, and slice the center stalk thinly.

Reserve a packed 3/4 cup of the florets, and add remaining florets and sliced stems to the boiling water. Boil until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain well and transfer to a blender. Blend, adding 1/4 cup milk, or as needed, to make a very thick, smooth, puree. Pour into a large bowl, and set aside.

In a small pot over medium-high heat, heat 1 cup of milk just until steaming. Season with salt to taste. Cover and turn off heat. In a second small pot over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter, and whisk in flour. Cook until thickened, whisking constantly, about 3 minutes. Add hot milk and whisk constantly to make a thick béchamel, 3 to 5 minutes.

Fold the béchamel into the cauliflower puree. Add eggs, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, a pinch of nutmeg, and salt to taste. In a small sauté pan over medium-high, heat remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and add 3/4 cup cauliflower florets. Sauté until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and fold florets into béchamel mixture.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Lightly coat the insides of six four-ounce ramekins with nonstick spray, and fill almost to the top with the flan mixture. Place in a baking dish and add boiling water until it reaches two-thirds up the sides of the ramekins. Cover tightly with a sheet of aluminum foil, and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover, and cook until the centers are firm yet still jiggle a little. Remove ramekins from the water and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to three days.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Meanwhile, allow ramekins to sit at room temperature until no longer chilled. Place in a baking dish and add boiling water until it reaches two-thirds up the sides of the ramekins. Cover tightly with foil, and bake until reheated, about 15 minutes.

To serve, remove the sformato from the water bath. Run a knife around the inside of a ramekin, and place a small plate on top. Invert, and remove the ramekin. The sformato should unmold effortlessly. Repeat with remaining ramekins.