Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Farmers Market Dinner, Part Two: Cheese Sformato with a Ragu of Spring Vegetables

A sformato is a baked custard of Italian origin that is unmolded before serving (the Italian verb sformare means “to unmold”). It is based on the classic white sauce. In French cooking it is close to a soufflé base except this is made with whole eggs. Although this sformato has cheese, many have pureed vegetables mixed into the base.
Any cheese can be used. I used a 5 year-aged "estate collection" cheddar from Sonoma Creamery that I discovered when shopping. (It is very good. It has little crystals in it that you would normally associate with good Parmesan cheese). I have made it with blue cheese, too. The blue was Valley Shepherd Creamery’s Crema de Blue, found at their stand in the Reading Terminal Market in Philly. There will be more on Valley Shepherd Creamery in the future.
You will notice a similar treatment of the vegetables as in the previous farmers market dinner recipes. With great ingredients you get out of the way and let them do all the talking; keep it simple.
The sformato recipe makes four 6-ounce servings. Leftovers are great in the center of a salad.

Cheese Sformato                                                    
Valley Shepherd Crema de Blue
For four 6-ounce servings
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups half and half or milk
salt and ground black pepper
½ cup grated cheese (sharp cheddar, fontina, etc)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 grade A large eggs

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter four 6-ounce oven-proof ramekins (or similar dishes) and set aside. Place a saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and let cook for two to three minutes; do not brown. Add the half and half and whisk to incorporate. Raise the heat and whisk until the mixture thickens. After the sauce has thickened, remove it from the heat, season with salt and ground black pepper.
2. Place the egg into a bowl and whisk them together. Add some of the warm sauce into the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Pour this back into the rest of the sauce and whisk together.
3. Divide the sformato mixture between the four ramekins. Place the filled ramekins into a baking pan. Fill the pan with hot water until it reaches about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the custards have set. The custard may rise during baking, but this is alright; it will fall as it cools. Remove from oven. When cool, remove the ramekins to a plate and let cool. Set aside until needed.

Asparagus, Fiddlehead Fern, and Morel Ragu
This will work with any combination of vegetables you might have. It doesn’t have to be these particular ones.

For two serving
6 medium-thick asparagus spears
¼ pound fiddlehead ferns
1/8th to ¼ pound fresh morels, depending on how much you wish to splurge.
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
juice of ½ lemon

1. Snap or trim off the bottoms of the asparagus. Trim the bottom ends from the fiddleheads and clean them by soaking them in a bowl of cold water.
Fill a medium-sized sauté pan with ½ cup lightly salted water onto the stove over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the asparagus spears and cook the asparagus for 3 to 4, until tender; a knife point should just be able to pierce the spears. Remove from heat, drain into a colander and refresh under cold running water.
When the asparagus is cool, cut the spears into 1” pieces and transfer it to a plate.
2. Trim the ends off the ends of the morels and rinse the morels under cold water. Return the sauté pan to the stove over medium-high heat. Swirl in a little olive oil into the pan. Add the shallot and sweat the shallot for a minute or so. Add the morels; season with salt and pepper. Cook the morels until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes depending on their size. Push the morels aside, add a little more olive oil and add the garlic, cooking until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the asparagus pieces to the pan. Drain the fiddleheads and add them to the pan; season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes; the fiddleheads don’t take long to cook. Push the vegetables to the outside of the pan and add the butter. Cook the butter until it begins to brown, squeeze in the lemon juice and stir the vegetables together. Remove from heat. Taste for seasoning and correct, if necessary.
3. Unmold the sformato (sformati?) by running a knife around the outside edge of the ramekin and carefully invert it onto the center of a plate. Divide the vegetable mixture around the custards and serve.


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