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Saturday, 24 April 2010

Cheese & Vegetable Flan

What beautiful weather this month has given us so far! The sun is shining, the temperature mild and getting out of bed and of the house in the morning does not seem as dreadful an idea as in the cold winter months. After many dark afternoons spent curled up on the sofa watching a DVD while the rain is pouring outside the window at the week-end, this Saturday morning I felt like I couldn't wait to get out and soak up the sun. At last, it's time for the first BBQ of the year! Alongside the grilled sausage sandwiches, enriched by my boyfriend's roasted cherry tomatoes and a dollop of piquant French mustard, I decided to skip the usual salad and serve a side dish that may be a bit unusual for the UK, but that is a big hit at Italian pic-nics. That's cheese and vegetable flan, or sformato di formaggio e verdure. Moreish, very portable and delicious even when served cold - therefore perfect for being eaten outdoors, with your toes on the grass and the sun on your back.

INGREDIENTS (serves 8)

  • Broccoli florets (without the stem, about 100 gr) 
  • 2 courgettes
  • 1 large potato 
  • 1 shallot
  • A handful of chopped parsley
  • Two handfuls of freshly grated gruyère cheese
  • A handful of freshly grated cheddar cheese
  • 50 gr butter (+ more for rubbing it on your baking tray)
  • 50 gr flour
  • 500 ml milk
  • 2 free range eggs
  • Grated nutmeg
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil 
  • Salt & pepper
First of all, make a béchamel  sauce. Melt the butter at very low heat in a small saucepan; add the flour and the milk bit by bit, always whisking to prevent lumps from forming. Slowly bring the mixture to the boil, stirring it often, until it gets thick and acquires a custard-like consistency. Season with salt and a bit of grated nutmeg and set aside. Now dice your courgettes and potatoes, cut up the broccoli in small florets and boil the vegetables until tender. 

Chop the shallot and fry it at very low heat in a knob of butter, then add the boiled vegetables to the pan and 'stir fry' them for a few minutes at moderate heat, until they have acquired some colour. Now taste them and season them with salt and pepper, then let them cool down a little.
In a large bowl, tip your lukewarm vegetables, béchamel  sauce, cheese, parsley and stir. Taste the mixture again: make sure the seasoning is right or your flan will taste bland. When you are happy with it, add the eggs. The mixture will look quite unattractive, a bit like a green cake batter, but don't worry - it will look much prettier when it's cooked, I promise! Now get a non-stick shallow baking tray and rub it all over with butter, then sprinkle breadcrumbs on it, a bit like you would do with flour when making a soufflé. After this little trick, your flan will be super-easy to lift from the tray when cut in neat slices.
Tip the 'batter' in the tray, sprinkle with more breadcrumbs, drizzle it with olive oil and finally grate some more cheese on top. This will guarantee you a tasty, golden crust. 
Bake it in a pre-heated oven at 180° C for about 30 minutes. When ready, let it rest for at least 30 minutes before serving it. It's one of those dishes that you can make one day in advance and it tastes all that much better for it, and you can pick and mix your vegetables - try cauliflower, squash, peas, artichokes, spinach - you name it! Great also served as a vegetarian main course alongside a fresh green salad, or as a starter.

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