Baked Cauliflower Tuscan-Style

Sformato di Cavolfiore alla Toscana

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • For

    4

    persons

Appears in

Marcella Cucina

By Marcella Hazan

Published 1997

  • About

As the wife of a man who writes about wine I have come to realize that there is no group of people so hospitable as wine producers. Accompanying Victor on his visits to Italy’s wine districts has earned me a place at a broad variety of regional tables.

At a densely attended bibulous occasion in Montalcino—the southern Tuscan town where one of the world’s most fascinating red wines, Brunello, is produced—a large spread was served buffet-style at midday. A vegetable pie was served that tasted better at each bite. I returned for seconds, and for thirds. One of the guests at my table, a woman of about my years, smiled after my third trip back from the buffet. “I am happy to see you like the cauliflower sformato,” she said. “It’s irresistible,” I replied. “I wish I knew how to make it.” “I can tell you,” she said “I am the one who made it.”

Ingredients

  • 2 to pounds cauliflower or broccoflower
  • 2 tablespoons butter plus butter for smearing the baking dish
  • A béchamel sauce made with 1 tablespoon butter, tablespoons flour, and 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • Optional (see headnote): ¼ pound boiled, unsmoked ham, cut into narrow strips
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

A 7 by 11-inch oven-to-table baking dish or any other format of comparable capacity

Method

  1. Trim away most of the cauliflower’s outer leaves, keeping just the layer of tender leaves close to the head. Cut off a thin slice from the butt end and cut a cross into the root. Wash the cauliflower in cold water. Bring to a boil enough water to amply cover it and drop in the cauliflower. Cook about 20 minutes. Drain when it feels tender but firm when prodded with a fork.
  2. When the cauliflower is cool enough to handle, cut into small pieces, the root end into smaller pieces than the rest.
  3. Choose a skillet that can subsequently accommodate the cauliflower pieces in a single layer without overlapping, put in 2 tablespoons of butter, and turn on the heat to medium high. When the butter foam begins to subside, add the cauliflower pieces, turning them over for about 1 minute to coat them well. Transfer the cauliflower to a bowl and let it cool completely.
  4. Turn on the oven to 400°F.
  5. Make a rather firm béchamel.
  6. Break the eggs into a deep dish and beat them lightly with a fork.
  7. Put all but 3 or 4 tablespoons of béchamel into the bowl with the cold cauliflower. Add the beaten eggs, the optional strips of ham, salt, liberal grindings of black pepper, grated nutmeg, and cup grated Parmesan. Turn over all ingredients thoroughly with a spoon.
  8. Thinly smear the inside of the baking dish with butter. Empty into it the contents of the bowl with the cauliflower pieces, leveling them off with a spatula. Spread the remaining 3 or 4 tablespoons of béchamel over the top, and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan.
  9. Bake in the upper middle level of the preheated oven until a light golden crust forms on top, about 30 minutes. Let it settle for several minutes after removing it from the oven to serve it lukewarm.