The sformato, a kind of vegetable soufflé, has to be one of the best-kept secrets of Italian cuisine as I’ve never seen it on a menu outside Italy. (Please let me know if you have.) I first had them in the excellent restaurant Da Alighiero, in the Tuscan town of Anghiari. They are often served as vegetable sides (contorni) or as dishes in themselves and they make excellent starters for a dinner party.
The name, which literally means ‘unmoulded’ refers to the fact that, unlike soufflés, these are cooked in moulds and then turned out onto the plate. Because of this, you can have a lot of fun experimenting with different shapes but be sure to butter your mould very well or you’ll have problems turning it out in one piece. A word of advice is to de-mould the sformati as soon as they are cooked, or if you need to let them cool down, then dip the mould in boiling water which will melt the butter at the bottom and allow the sformato to drop out, presto pronto!
You can make sformati with almost any vegetable. You can substitute five or six porcini mushrooms into the recipe below and it will work just as well. It’s also possible to play around with the texture. Sometimes sformati are silky and sometimes chunky. For the recipe below, I like to cut the fennel into ½ cm (1/4 inch) chunks which gives the texture some bite. In fact this results in a delicate texture where the tangy al dente chunks are just being held in place by the fluffy background ingredients. Sounds tempting? Well, get your knives and pans out and see you later.