Springtime Spinach Sformatini with a Heart of Mozzarella

Spinach sformatini

Spinach sformatini

It was in a little restaurant in the hills of Tuscany where I tasted my first sformato, a light and savory Italian custard or flan.  The word literally translates to ‘unmolded’ and is great fun to pronounce, especially after a glass of vino or two.  Although elegant in its presentation, the tasty sformato is simply a mix of pureed vegetables combined with eggs and béchamel.  This creamy mixture provides the perfect backdrop to spring’s colorful vegetables, allowing the essence of the vegetable to shine through.  
This impressive little dish can be an elegant first course, side dish or served with a simple green salad.  It is typically cooked in individual-sized ramekins and then ‘unmolded’ (hence the name!) onto the plate.  For an easier version, bake it in a larger soufflé dish instead of individual dishes.  (But then you miss all the fun of unmolding them onto the plates.)
The options are endless so do not be afraid to experiment.  Toss in your favorite herbs.  Substitute your favorite veggie.  Sub out Pecorino for the Parmesan. My first sformato was studded with tender baby artichokes and drizzled with a simple yet delicious Parmesan sauce.  I was hooked. I now make sformato using an endless array of vegetables from winter’s tender fennel to spring’s delicate bounty. In this version, I added a strip of fresh mozzarella in the middle to add a layer of creaminess in the heart of the sformato. 
Whatever your desire, drizzle it all with your best quality extra-virgin olive oil for a special finish! Happy spring!
Buon appetito!
Sformatini di Spinaci con Cuore di Mozzarella 
(Spinach Sformatini with a Heart of Mozzarella)
Makes 6 using 6-ounce ramekins
For the sformatini:
·3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional for coating
·½ cup all-purpose flour
·2 1/2 cups whole milk
·¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
·Kosher salt
·Freshly ground pepper
·1 tablespoon olive oil 
·1 small onion, finely chopped
·1 clove garlic, chopped
·1 pound spinach leaves, cleaned and trimmed
·2 eggs
·1 egg yolk
·2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, plus additional for sprinkling
·Small piece fresh mozzarella, cut lengthwise into ½ slices
To serve:
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Butter the ramekins and place in a larger baking dish. Set them aside for later. 
In a small saucepan, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter over low heat.  Add the flour and stir until incorporated. Continue to cook until the flour begins to thicken a bit, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth.  Cook, whisking occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Transfer to a small bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming.  Allow to cool slightly. 
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and the garlic and cook until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes.  Add in the spinach and sauté until wilted, about a minute or two. Remove from the heat.  Transfer the spinach to a food processor or blender and process until smooth.  
In a large bowl, lightly beat the 2 eggs and egg yolk. Stir in the white sauce, pureed spinach mixture, 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir until very smooth.  
Pour the filling into the prepared ramekins until about 1/3 full.  Add 1 slice of mozzarella and top with additional filling until about 2/3 full.  Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese. Return the ramekins to the larger baking dish and carefully pour enough hot water into the baking dish to reach about halfway up the sides of the ramekin. Place the baking dish on the lower rack in the oven and bake until the sformati are set, about 40 or 50 minutes.  The sformati are finished when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven. Allow the sformati to rest for about 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the sformati. Carefully invert or unmold onto a small plate.   Drizzle or surround with the Parmesan sauce, recipe below.  Drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil and serve!
Parmesan Sauce
·½ cup heavy cream
·¼ cup whole milk
·¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
·2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
·Kosher salt
·White pepper
In a small saucepan, combine the cream and the milk. Bring to a boil over medium low heat.  Add the nutmeg and whisk until incorporated.  Remove from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.

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