Few scents evoke an emotional response like that of bread as it rises to perfection in a hot oven. Taste buds awaken, eyes widen, stomachs rumble,...
I still remember the first time I crossed paths with a sformato. I was traveling through Italy with a few friends and we stopped at a local trattoria in the countryside for lunch. With no real plans for the afternoon, we spent a leisurely afternoon sitting on the outside veranda soaking up the fall sunshine.
With no other patrons in sight, the cheery owner of the trattoria sat with us for a bit as we sipped a delightful local vino. We then asked if he would be so kind as to serve us whatever he felt were his favorite dishes. His eyes lit and with great enthusiasm, he scooted off to the kitchen to delight his guests.
The sformato arrived alongside a simply prepared dish of sliced pork in the tastiest of broths. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of the molded custardy green item on my plate but one taste transported me to another dimension – a marriage of so many of my favorite flavors – ricotta, parmigiano, spinach. I then asked the owner what this little delight was called – to which he responded ‘uno sformato.’ ‘Scusi?’ I asked. ‘Uno sformato – S-F-O-R-M-A-T-O’ he replied.
I tried to repeat the word but my attempts sent us all into a fit of giggles. Even the owner giggled, his eyes twinkling. (ok, maybe it was the copious amounts of vino that afternoon). We giggled between mouthfuls and spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to repeat the word with limited success. Try it – I bet you will giggle too.
A sformato is Italy’s version of the flan or soufflé. Sformatos are an elegant and simple way to showcase seasonal veggies and they can be served as an antipasto, as a light lunch, or alongside the main course for dinner. It is incredibly versatile so use whatever veggies you have on hand (spinach, asparagus, mushrooms…). I have made two different types of sformato – one using ricotta and one using a béchamel. This recipe is the ricotta version. You can make this in one large baking dish as I have done here, in smaller individual molds or for a pretty festive presentation, in a ring mold. Just keep an eye on it and remove from the oven when the sformato is firm, slightly puffy and begins to pull away from the sides of the dish.
So impress your friends and family at your next dinner party. Just get ready for the giggles when your guests ask what that delicious dish is called.
Artichoke and Tomato Sformato
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling
1 cup frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup dry white wine
Butter to butter the dish or molds
Fine breadcrumbs to coat the buttered dish or molds
2 cups whole milk ricotta (freshly made if you can get it)
½ cup grated Parmigiano
2 large eggs
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly toss the cherry tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil. Arrange the tomato halves, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until soft and slightly charred, about 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Leave the oven on.
2. In the meantime, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Slice the artichoke hearts into slices about ¼ inch thick. Add the artichoke hearts to the pan and sauté until brown and slightly caramelized. Season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add in the wine and sauté until the wine is absorbed. Allow to cool slightly. Put the roasted tomatoes and the artichoke hearts in a blender and puree until smooth.
3. Generously grease an 8 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and tap out any excess.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta and Parmigiano cheese. Season the mixture with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add in the eggs and whisk until incorporated. Stir in the tomato/artichoke mixture. Pour into the prepared baking dish.
5. Bake until set around the edges but just a bit soft in the center – about 40-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Loosen around the edges.
6. To serve, invert onto a plate, say sformato, giggle and serve! (You can also serve directly from the baking dish if preferred.)
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.