Sformato used to be a dirty word in this house, on the basis of one (made from Cardoons) that was served many years ago at a Christmas Eve dinner party outside Colle Val d'Elsa. Sludge-like in appearance, it had the texture of baby food and a composite flavour that could have been anything or nothing. It did the concept of Sformato a terrible injustice, and for a very long time even the very word raised a wrinkled lip of disdain in these quarters. Until now.
Recently, I came across a recipe for Fennel Sformato, given by Anna del Conte in her excellent 'Secrets from an Italian Kitchen' which has completely reversed that prejudice. The version given here is an adaptation of that recipe, and is light, and completely delicious. Sformatino, by the way, is just the linguistic consequence of making sformato in smaller, individual portions.
The fact that the cooked fennel is partly chopped and partly puréed is important - it retains some texture in the finished dish, and saves it from being merely pap. The choice of sauce is mine - you can replace it with any sauce you might prefer that you think would work with this dish.
For Two Sformatini.
Ingredients: 250g Fennel; 30g Butter; 100 ml milk; 15g Flour; pinch of Nutmeg; 1 Egg; 20g grated Parmesan; 1 tbs dried breadcrumbs (see recipe re this ingredient); 30g Gorgonzola piccante; 1/4 cup of Cream; Salt & Pepper.
1. Slice the Fennel thinly, sauté it for five minutes in half of the butter, melted in a sauté pan, then season with Salt & Pepper, add half of the Milk, and simmer, covered, for twenty minutes or so - until the Fennel is cooked through.
2. Drain the Fennel, and discard any remaining cooking liquid. Purée half of it in the food processor, and chop the other half by hand into fine dice. Combine the two Fennel mixtures in a bowl.
3. Melt the remaining Butter in a double boiler or simmertopf . Stir in the Flour, and then add the remaining Milk; cook, stirring, for five minutes or so, to make a thickish bechamel. Add to this a pinch of Nutmeg, then add the sauce to the Fennel.
4. Add the beaten Egg and the Parmesan to this mixture; mix very thoroughly, then test and adjust seasoning to taste. Put into two prepared ramekins (if you use Trennwax on the ramekins, no breadcrumbs are necessary; if you butter the ramekins instead, however, then it's a good idea also to dust them with fine breadcrumbs in order to facilitate subsequent unmoulding)
5. Place the ramekins in a bain marie, and bake for about 30 minutes in 190 degree C oven - when cooked, the tops will be slightly browned, and the sformatini will have swelled slightly. Let sit for five minutes before unmoulding them onto heated plates to serve.
6. Meanwhile, gently heat the Gorgonzola and Cream together to make the sauce, one spoonful of which should go onto each sformatino.