I remember being on a plane a long time ago, probably on my way to a conference or other project abroad. The gentlemen on my left side was flying somewhere to embark on a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, the legendary train line which is connecting Moscow with Vladivostok since 1916. He was alone, a middle-aged man. I hardly remember his face, but what he mentioned at a certain point in the conversation, has come back to me often in the last 15 summers: “I am a cook, I spend all my time in a hot kitchen, when on holidays I want to travel slowly and I want to go to a cold place”.
I don’t slave away in a professional kitchen. However, there are moments during our long Umbrian summer when I dream to be in a tub of cool sparkling water with a stream of bubbles slowly massaging my tired body. Does a cold spa actually exist? I never seem to need hot baths 🙂
The truth is, I enjoy our B&B guests and our cooking classes every season, even in summer. This not only because our kitchen has aircon and I take care to prepare lots of refreshing dishes, but also because everybody seems to enjoy themselves when they get here atop our magical mountain. I’m surrounded by happy people, it’s a quite unique human experience.
Another reason to love summer despite the heat, is that everything seems to taste better, to be more intense, more beautiful. In addition, my favorite vegetable, eggplants are in season.
Today’s recipe is a simple sformato which has the same ingredients of an eggplant parmigiana (or parmesan) but it can be prepared with minimal fuss and increase of kitchen temperatures. That’s why I call it lazy.
In Italian, the term sformato means “unmolded” — from sformare, to turn out from a mold and it’s basically a savory vegetable custard, not dissimilar from a souffle. You could also consider it a crustless quiche.
I grill the eggplants on a stove-top griddle and bake the sformato in the oven but you could easily use the barbecue for the whole preparation, if you have one of those with a lid.
The sformato can be served at room temperature or easily reheated. If it’s a hot day I bake it when I don’t have to be in the kitchen, e.g. in the middle of the afternoon.
- 2-3 eggplants (about 1 kg /2 lb)
- 2 large clove of garlic
- 200 gr (7 oz) fresh mozzarella, diced
- 3 tablespoon chopped fresh cherry tomatoes or diced canned tomatoes
- 50 gr (1 and 1/2 oz) grated parmesan
- 3-4 tablespoon bread crumbs or gluten-free equivalent
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 egg
- a handful of basil leaves
Pierce the eggplants several times with the tip of a knife to prevent them from exploding. I am serious, the last time I forgot they exploded in a million small pieces inside the oven. I was lucky it did not happen when I opened the oven door to check!
Place eggplants on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Bake in preheated oven at 220 C (430 ° F) until very soft. Turn them around every 20 min to cook them evenly.
If you don’t feel to use the oven, grill the eggplants on a cast iron griddle, over medium/high heat, covered, turning every 5-6 minutes until charred and soft. Obviously you can do the same on the BBQ.
Let them cool, peel and transfer in a colander. Place a weight on top to drain the excess moisture. You can bake/griddle the eggplants the night before and finish the dish the next day so the rest of the preparation is quick and convenient.
Chop the garlic finely and saute in 1 tablespoon olive oil until fragrant. Add the chopped eggplants and cook uncovered for 2-3 min. to infuse. Sprinkle with salt.
Reserve a few slices of mozzarella to top the sformato.
Remove the eggplant from heat and stir in egg, 3/4 of the Parmesan cheese, milk, 3/4 of the mozzarella and a twist or two of black pepper.
Brush a 20 cm (8 inch) non-stick tart pan or souffle dish with olive oil. Sprinkle with bread crumbs or gluten-free equivalent. Coarse polenta flour is an excellent alternative.
Scoop the eggplant mixture into the oiled mold, top with the diced or cherry tomatoes and basil leaves, the rest of the mozzarella and sprinkle with the rest of the parmesan.
Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes at 210 °C (410 F°), until the sformato is set, the cheese is melted and beginning to lightly brown at the sides.
Allow the sformato to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. This is a great vegetarian dinner only needing some crusty bread and a bowl of fruit as a dessert.
Serves 2 as a vegetarian main and 3-4 as an appetizer.
Ps. I have started to write an email newsletter where I will compile seasonal menu suggestions, stories and travel tips about Umbria and I will announce news regarding our culinary tours, availability of olive oil, and my 2018 travels to the USA. If you wish to join please subscribe here, I promise I will not spam you with too many messages!