There is certain cooking jargon that used to immediately repel me from recipe. These are terms that intimidated and mocked me, terms and techniques that spotlighted my deepest weaknesses and shortcomings in the kitchen. These are silly little words that prompted me to toss an otherwise completely-conquerable recipe.
One such nasty expression used to be “… and then bake in a water bath…”
The pure nonchalance with which it is presented is irritating in itself, the author should at least prime the reader for the looming intimidation, but no. I would be contentedly scanning a perfectly decent and straightforward recipe, taking mental note of the ingredients I’d need, when WHAM!!
First off, my mind goes straight to “bath water” which I don’t find very appetizing. But even when interpreted correctly, it calls up apocalyptic visions of rapidly boiling water in precarious pans capsizing in a scorching oven, pools of runny egg liquid seeping out leaky cracks, third-degree-burns and horrified dinner guests.
Next recipe please.
But I wanted to make a sformatino, which basically means “a-cute-little-something-cooked-in-a-mould-and-then-turned-out-of-it.” I had cream on hand, and eggs, and some frozen roasted squash puree’ leftover from this soup recipe. I searched online for recipe but kept butting up against the dreaded term everywhere I turned. Over and over again, every recipe I found contained varying amounts of cream and eggs, and the inevitable bath water. Uffa!
So obviously, I decided to get over myself and face my fear, which, like most phobias, turned out to be completely unfounded.
You only need about an inch of water and it hardly even boils, it only serves to keep the temperature low and even so the little custard doesn’t curdle. No biggie. Nothing leaked, my dinner guests were not traumatized by the evening and I survived unscathed. When asked for the recipe, I confidently listed ingredients and measurements, saving the best for last as I nonchalantly continued “… and then bake in a water bath for about an hour…”
Savory Butternut Flan
One large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
1 red onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup half-and-half
4 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano
6-8 ramekins (I used the disposable aluminum kind)
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Grease and flour your ramekins, set aside.
Combine squash, onion and garlic in a large baking tray and toss to coat with some olive oil, salt and pepper.
Roast for about 30 minutes or until squash starts to brown and is really soft when poked with fork. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Reduce oven temp to 325°F (165°C).
Purée the roasted veggies in a food processor until smooth. Put 2 cups (600 g) purée in a bowl, then whisk in eggs, half-and-half, cheese, a pinch of salt, and ground black pepper until combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared ramekins, filling about 3/4 the way up.
Here comes the terrifying part, the dreaded water bath!
Set the ramekins in a large roasting pan with sides at least 2 inches high. Fill a measuring cup with water and slowly fill the pan until the water comes about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Set the pan in the oven and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove ramekins from water bath and let cool about 5-10 minutes. Invert the flan directly on to serving dishes and eat immediately!
Note: I served these with some sage-seared shrimp, a delicious combination. You could also different vegetables, the possibilities are endless!