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Spectacular Italian Cauliflower Flan

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Q. Last Friday night I had the pleasure of dinning in a small restaurant in the cellar of a very old building in a hilltop village a little south of Turin in Italy. As one of the antipasta (starters) they served ground cauliflower in a portion that looked like a slice of butter (it was pale yellow in color), being about 1/2-inch thick and about 2 inches by 3-1/2 inches, and topped with a small amount of soft creamy cheese. Do you have any idea how they would have prepared it and cooked it because it was simply divine, as were the other dishes and the wines that evening.

PS: Not even if you threatened to cook me alive in a missionary pot will I divulge the name of the village nor the name of the restaurant.

A.  After literally months of tireless research for our gracious reader, we believe we have identified the dish in question as Sformato di cavolfiore con fonduta, or Cauliflower Flan with Melted Cheese. Teodora Trevisan, a lovely person in the agricultural office of Piedmont’s regional government — who knows how to share — said she doesn’t know a formal recipe for the dish, but offered her own. And, she modestly says, her "guests are usually keen on it."

First, steam a small cauliflower. Then put it in a saucepan with some butter and brown it lightly, breaking it up into little pieces as it cooks. Season with salt and black pepper. Put it in a mixer and beat it into a paste, then add two egg yolks and three or four tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Make a béchemel sauce by heating two tablespoons of butter and two of flour in a small saucepan and cooking gently for a couple of minutes. Add a cup of hot milk, cook a bit more, and stir until smooth.

Mix the béchamel sauce and cauliflower paste and mix gently until well blended. Butter a square pan and put the cauliflower mixture into the pan, smoothing the top. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes at 400°F (205°C). Let the flan cool and gently invert it onto a plate or cutting board and cut it into slices. 

Separately, gently melt some cheese in a double-boiler. Ms. Trevisan says the choice of cheese is up to you, but mentions several cow’s-milk cheeses that are Piedmont specialties that will create different effects — Castelmagno (a creamy blue cheese), Fontina (a delicate white cheese, well appreciated for its melting qualities), Raschera (a semi-soft ivory cheese) and Gorgonzola (another blue that is known around the world).

Put a slice of flan in each dish and cover it with a spoonful of the melted cheese. Serve immediately.

Thank heavens there are some kind, generous people in this world who are willing to share their favorite food secrets with others. Where would we be without them?

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