These Gorgonzola custards with pears are a voluptuous starter course, but they would also be a great dessert for anyone who loves fruit and cheese to end a meal. The custards are creamy and mildly salty, a perfect match for a small salad of peppery greens accented with toasted nuts and slivers of ripe pear. Although this recipe will fill six standard custard cups, because the cheese custard is very rich, I suggest you fill 8 custard cups two-thirds full. Even though the presentation of these sformati, with their salad and fruit accompaniment, is contemporary, the Gorgonzola custards themselves are atraditional preparation of Lombardy, where the cheese originates.—Joyce Goldstein
For the Gorgonzola custards
Unsalted butter for molds, plus 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups half-and-half, heated
2 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 pound Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled, or to taste
For the vinaigrette
7 tablespoons walnut or hazelnut oil
2 tablespoons mild extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad
1/2 cup walnuts or hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 bunches watercress, tough stems removed, or 3 cups arugula leaves
2 flavorful pears such as Anjou or Cornice, unpeeled, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
Make the Gorgonzola custards
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Liberally butter eight 3/4-cup custard cups or ramekins and place in a baking pan.
2. In a saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. When the foam subsides, add the flour, stir well, and cook, stirring, for a minute or so, to cook away the raw taste of the flour. Slowly add the half-and-half while whisking constantly, and then cook, continuing to whisk, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the whole eggs and egg yolks. Then whisk in the cheese until the mixture is smooth. Taste and add salt, if needed (the cheese will add salt). If you like, transfer the mixture to a small pitcher for easy pouring.
4. Pour the custard into the prepared custard cups. Carefully pour hot water into the baking pan to reach halfway up the sides of the molds. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake the Gorgonzola custards until a knife inserted into the center of a custard emerges clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
For the vinaigrette
1. In a small bowl, whisk together all the oils and vinegars and then whisk in salt and pepper to taste. You will have about 3/4 cup. Ready the remaining salad ingredients at the same time. When the custards are ready, carefully remove the cups from the water bath and let rest for 5 minutes. While the custards are resting, in a small bowl, toss the nuts with about 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Set aside.
1. Working with 1 custard at a time, run a knife blade around the inside of each mold to loosen the Gorgonzola custard, then invert the custard onto a plate. When all the custards are unmolded, in a bowl, toss the watercress with all but about 1/4 cup of the remaining vinaigrette and divide among the plates. Top with the pear slices, again dividing evenly, and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette. Sprinkle with the nuts. Serve immediately.
Note: You can bake these Gorgonzola custards up to 1 day ahead of time, let cool, cover, and refrigerate. To warm them for serving, return the cups to the baking pan, add hot water to a depth of 1 inch to the pan, cover the baking pan, and heat in a preheated 350°F (175°C) oven until the custards are warm in the center, 10 to 15 minutes. To test, insert a thin knife blade into a custard and withdraw it; the tip of the blade should feel warm to the touch. For a quicker method, reheat the custards in a microwave oven for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Wine: Moscato d’Asti is a refreshing choice, whether the custards are served as an antipasto or a dessert. Slightly effervescent and slightly sweet, it is the ideal match with the Gorgonzola and pears. Look for such producers as Saracco, Massolino, Braida, or Nivole.
Recipe © 2006 by Joyce Goldstein. All rights reserved.