I am unsure what to call this dish in English.
If I were to call this following dish a Ricotta and Spinach Bake, most people would assume that it would be predomintly pasta (or rice?).
If I called it a pie, the assumption would be that it would have a pastry base; a terrine is likely to be cooked in a bain-marie and a frittata is fried and not baked (fritta means fried).
The Italian label – a sformato – is so appropriate and descriptive.
And yet if one looks at the translation into English of the word sformato it is translated as a flan, a pie, even a quiche. These translations cover a lot of territory in the world of cuisine and they just don’t do it for me!
For me a sformato is something that has eggs to bind some chopped or pureed vegetables (or/and protein, ie meat, small goods, fish) and flavourings. And it is baked. It could contain some pasta, rice or breadcrumbs for thickening. Unlike a souffle, a sformato may contain less eggs, hence a sformato is not as light and fluffy.
A ‘forma’ is a shape or a mold, therefore a sformato is baked in a vessel that gives it shape. The word and noun sformato comes from the verb ‘sformare’, to unmold, therefore I will assume correctly that a sformato is to be tipped out onto a plate.
Maybe I also need to acknowledge that because I have eaten various sformati (plural) I know what they are. Sformati are made all over Italy so it is an Italian regional dish.
A sformato is one of the perfect ways to use left over vegetables. Maybe the Anglo version was/is to use left overs in a mornay… remember them?
Ricotta and spinach are good together and a very popular combination in many Italian dishes. Parmigiano or pecorino add a stronger taste and enhance the flavours of these ingredients.
Like most Italian recipes the quantities are an estimation. if you add more spinach add eggs, if you would like to taste the butter, add more.
Ingredients in my sformato:
4 eggs, 700 gms ricotta, 50g butter
400 gms cleaned and chopped spinach
1 spring onion finely chopped, 1 clove of chopped garlic (optional),1 clove minced garlic
½ – 1 cup grated parmigiano or pecorino (stronger taste), some cultures may use feta
salt pepper and a pinch of nutmeg to taste, 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds if you wish to add a different layer to the dish (in other cultures dill is popular and you may wish to use this)
a little extra virgin olive oil to saute the vegetables and more butter to grease the mold.
I also had some parmigiano that had gone hard in my fridge and I wanted to use that up so I chopped it into little pieces and added it to the mixture.
Oven to 180 /200C
Pour a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil into a pan and add the onion and garlic and lightly sauté the ingredients.
Add spinach and fennel seeds (if using) and wilt it for 5-7 minutes.
Drain the spinach. Let it cool.
Prepare a mold 20-26 cm/8-10 baking pan by rubbing it liberally with butter on the base and up the sides. Better still, use buttered baking paper to line the pan. I used an old pyrex dish and had run out of baking paper, and as you will see in my photo below the bottom of my sformato stuck. Maybe, if you are not using baking paper, shake a little flour or breadcrumbs over the buttered baking pan.
Beat the eggs with the ricotta and butter. I used a kitchen hand/ blender.
Mix in the spinach mixture, grated cheese and bits of cheese if using. Decide how pureed you would like the spinach and blend accordingly.
Place the mixture into the prepared baking pan; smooth it over.
Bake for approximately 45-60 minutes or until cooked in the centre. When it is cooked the sformato will spring back when touched. Mine cooked for 55mins but I think it could have been left for about 10 minutes to set even further.
It cut quite nicely and we had it hot, but it was also good to eat cold the next day. Like frittata, a sformato is portable and perfect for a picnic.
I had some tomato salsa (what some call Napoli Sauce – peeled, chopped tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil, salt, garlic clove… all cooked together and reduced till thickened).
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