Monday 17 September 2007

Recipe: Celeriac 'sformato'

I suppose the practical translation of sformato would be 'mousse' - although it strikes me that a more literal translation would be 'shape', as in the nursery name that used to be given to blancmange (a much-loathed childhood memory, although one which has been rehabilitated in my mind, with the addition of more sophisticated flavours and under the guise of bavarois). In Italy, sformato is a savoury dish, and generally represents the unhappy end of some poor vegetable, which has sacrificed its all to absolutely no good purpose. For years, sformato was a dirty word in our house, following a particularly unfortunate experience at a Christmas Eve dinner just outside Colle Val d'Elsa, where the guests were all expected to bring a dish, and one elderly signora proudly presented her famed sformato of Cardoons. It raised the concept of 'bland' to hitherto-unknown heights, and the way it slithered eggily round the teeth and down the throat was little short of unpleasant. (Mind you, our contribution was a traditional English Christmas Pudding, and the Italians round the table, having looked on warily as the thing was set alight, took mouthfuls of the gloriously rich concoction with expressions of horror etched on their faces that completely defied description. Chacun a son gout.....)

Anyway, the following dish has gone some way towards changing my thinking about sformati in general - the flavour is good and intense, and the secret is not to process the vegetable too much before baking it, so that the finished product has body and retains a nice crunch. Quantities given here are for four, and I've found that they work perfectly when adjusted pro rata for two, six, eight, etc. If adjusting volumes to an odd number, then it works best to follow the egg/cream quantities for a smaller number of portions, but to increase the quantity of Celeriac in order to bulk up the overall amount - i.e. for three sformati, reduce the egg and cream quantities as if you were making only two, but throw in an extra handful of Celeriac dice. (If you go the other route, and try and add more egg, it just becomes too much like a baked custard).

For Four:

Ingredients: 2 cups of finely diced Celeriac; 3 oz of Butter; 1 cup of Cream; 2 Eggs; Salt & Pepper.


1. Melt the Butter in a small saucepan, and sweat the diced Celeriac in it over medium heat for about fifteen minutes, until it is tender and gives off a strong aroma.

2. Add the Cream to the pan, stir, and continue cooking for another five minutes, to allow the Cream to thicken. Allow to cool slightly.

3. Process this mixture in a food processor for half a minute, along with the Eggs and seasoning. It should still have some texture after it's been processed.

4. Divide the processed mixture between four greased ramekins, and bake for 20 minutes in a bain marie in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees C. Allow to rest for five minutes after they come out of the oven and before you turn them out to serve.

In Italy, last week, I couldn't get Celeriac, and instead used finely diced Celery. It worked well - although I had to cook the diced Celery for slightly longer in order to evaporate the water, before adding the Cream. Italian Celery has a lot more flavour than that in England, where, if I were going this route, I would definitely opt for organic Celery, which again has a lot more flavour than the non-organic variety.

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