It was our last night in Rome and I was unsure if I’d be able to get down another heavy, tomato sauced meal. And yet, we’d been able to snag a table at Trattoria Monti, said to be more difficult to get a reservation at than some of the much fancier, top restaurants in town. Who was I to be a spoiled sport and turn down another opportunity to eat, even if the flavors were beginning to feel a little too much the same and the lack of menu variety causing me to crave something – anything – different? Monti was said to be run by two good-looking brothers, Enrique and Danieli, who hold court in the front of the house while their Mama does all the cooking, specializing in food from the Le Marche region of Italy, part of central Italy, nestled in with Umbria and Tuscany. I had high hopes.
The meal itself was really very good. I think I was really just out of the mood at this point (as many of you know I have the attention span of a gnat and need to constantly switch things up, so this sixth night of Italian sameness was doing me in). My husband, just finished from a day in the rain on pope smoke watch duty, was tired, and we both would have preferred a night in with some Chinese and a good movie. All that said, I’m not really being fair to the restaurant who prepared a lovely meal full of interesting flavors. They are famous for their tortello, a giant ravioli with an egg yolk inside it that oozes out when you cut into it. It’s a neat trick and aside from the tomato sauce, which I didn’t think went with it all that well, I love myself an oozing egg yolk with some pasta. We had a friti (fried) plate that came full of lightly battered zucchini, zucchini flowers, anchovy stuffed olives, and a real winner, polenta with lemon zest. My suckling pig had crackling that would be the envy of every Sunday Roast chef I know and my dearest’s involtini (rolled) of swordfish stuffed with bread and pine nuts in a cherry tomato sauce was delicious.
However, what stood out to me from the meal and what I wanted to go straight home and recreate myself, was the red onion flan in gorgonzola sauce. I have been making these kinds of savory custards for several years, initially inspired by Mario Batali’s recipe for a sweet pea flan with carrot vinaigrette outof his Babbo cookbook. They are an indulgent first course and I think a lovely change of pace, something unexpected but quite showy. Also, they are a caterers dream since you can cook them ahead of time and then spend lots of time making your plates look pretty before they go out. While Trattoria Monti’s version had the onions still in the flan mixture (and hence it retained it’s lovely purply color) I decided to puree them in the food processor, giving it a little more luxurious texture and sophistication (I think). Mine didn’t look beautiful on the plate, but I think the remedy for this is to save a handful of your sauteed, caramelized red onions and garnish the top of your dish with them at the end. Try this, or maybe a parmesan crisp jauntily stuck in the middle? Give it a try next time you’re having people to dinner and let me know what you think!
Red Onion Flan a la Trattoria Monti with Gorgonzola Sauce
you will need 6 half cup ceramic ramekins, greased with butter
4 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing your ramekins
5 red onions, sliced thinly
salt and pepper
3 large eggs
¾ cup heavy cream
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a large sautee pan and add your onions to it. Over medium-low heat allow the onions to caramelize completely, adding salt and pepper towards the end of cooking. This should take 15 minutes or so and is crucial for bringing out the sweetness of the onions. Allow them to cool for about half an hour. Now, place the onions in the bowl of your food processor and puree until smooth. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and cream. Now incorporate the onion puree. Fill your ramekins about 3/4 full and place them into a large baking tray. Fill the baking tray with boiling water, so it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the tray with foil and place in the oven. Cook for 25 minutes, until a knife stuck into the middle of one comes out clean. Remove them from the water bath immediately and allow to cool a bit.
Gorgonzola Sauce (this would be really good thrown over some linguini too).
1 1/2 cup of white wine
1 cup half and half
4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
8 ounces good quality gorgonzola cheese
large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon pepper
Reduce the wine in a saucepan by half over high heat. Now add the cream and reduce the entire mixture by 1/3. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk together until smooth.
To serve: Carefully run a knife around the edge of each ramekin and turn out onto your serving plate. Cover the top with a generous ladle-full of the gorgonzola sauce and top with a few of your left over caramelized red onions or a lovely parmesan crisp.