Roasted red pepper flan with cheese sauce may be the least famous Italian recipe. Yet it is a popular starter dish in the region in Italy I come from. Italy runs on vegetables and cheese, and a vegetable flan with a cheesy sauce is a great option for an appetizer. Let me convince you that roasted pepper flan with pecorino sauce needs to become your next favourite antipasto.
I was born and raised in Piemonte, a region in north-western Italy known for its excellent wine and cheese. Sharing a border with France, we have some common ground with our cousins from across the border when it comes to cheese making. But if our cheeses may be overshadowed by the French ones, our wine is really what puts us on the map. I have talked to people who admitted to not knowing anything about my region, yet whenever I mentioned Barolo wine they would realize they actually knew something from Piemonte.
More recipe inspo from Piemonte: Nutella panna cotta.
Vegetable flan antipasto
Vegetable flans are popular items in the starter (or “antipasti”) section of a menu in north-western Italy. Easy to make yet somewhat elaborate enough to pass for a fancier thing, vegetable flans are indeed a great way to start a meal. Many will be familiar with the concept of an Italian “antipasto misto” that is often a selection of local cheeses and cold cuts. A vegetable flan can be a lovely alternative. Vegetarian, served warm with a generous pouring of cheese sauce down the side, I can’t think of a better way to start my meal. And I just looove it when these are served at wedding banquets!!
Most people might be familiar with flan as a sweet dish. It is, indeed, another name for crème caramel, a custard pudding served with caramel sauce. Flan can also refer to a savoury dish. When used to describe a savoury food it is usually another term for quiche. Quiche is basically a vegetable and egg mixture that is baked inside a crust. When it’s crustless, it is most commonly referred to as flan. Just like its sweet counterpart, a vegetable flan is a food that consists of an egg base (in this case mixed with a vegetable purée) that is baked in a mould in a water bath.
Although in this recipe I’m focusing on red pepper flan, you could be making flan with any other vegetable. Other popular alternatives are asparagus flan, zucchini flan, artichoke flan and even pumpkin flan. In this post I’m sharing my absolute favourite: roasted red pepper flan. Bell peppers are widely grown in my home region in Italy and red ones are my absolute favourites. They have such a beautiful colour that makes any dish stand out.
Related: roasted red pepper hummus with walnuts.
Roasted red pepper flan with pecorino sauce
So we discussed flans being the absolute *it* in restaurants across Piemonte and we discussed Piemonte being a land that is huge on cheese. What’s with Pecorino, then? That’s right, Pecorino is not a cheese from Piemonte. Pecorino is made with sheep’s milk and has a texture that resembles that of Parmigiano. Just like Parmigiano or Grana, Pecorino is a great cheese to grate on pasta. (Great to grate, had to check my spelling twice and I am still wondering if I got it right. Bear with me if I didn’t.) Many regions have their own variety of Pecorino, the most famous one being Pecorino Romano.
So why did I sneak a Roman cheese in my recipe for a signature dish from north-western Italy? Well because… why not? I was inspired by roasted red pepper flan eaten in my home region, but you could find this starter in other parts of Italy, too. As well as you can find Pecorino in Piemonte. Furthermore, we’re talking about my own kitchen in the middle of Sweden. Excuse me while I play a well-rounded tribute to my homeland as a whole!
Pecorino sauce for roasted red pepper flan
Pecorino cheese has a strong flavour, it is highly salty to the taste and has a distinct sheep’s milk cheese edge. While I enjoy snacking on bits of it alone, just like I do with Parmigiano, many people find Pecorino too salty and prefer to use it as an ingredient. The best use is definitely grated on top of a pasta dish. If Pecorino is not your cup of tea, or if it’s just difficult to find in stores where you live, feel free to sub it with parmesan.
The cheese sauce I suggest to pair with these roasted red pepper flans is bechamel-based. As opposed to a sauce made of melted cheese and cream, the base of this sauce here is milk thickened with flour where the cheese is just added for flavour. The result is a mild-flavoured sauce that perfectly pairs with the vegetable flans.
What kind of roasted peppers to use in vegetable flan
When I make roasted red pepper flan I generally prefer to oven roast the red peppers myself. This obviously takes some time, but I generally take care of this step the day before so that when I have to make the roasted pepper flans I’m good to go. Alternatively, you can use ready to eat roasted peppers. My mom usually does this and don’t you dare say that she cheats. She’s actually lucky enough to have access to a good brand of grilled red peppers in olive oil and I am so jealous. If I had such a product myself I’d totally use those. But I don’t, so my roasted pepper flans are entirely made from scratch.
Whether using jarred or home-made roasted peppers, it is important that the skin is removed. It is actually pretty easy as it peels off without resistance when the peppers are cooked. If using jarred and they are preserved in oil, make sure to properly drain your roasted peppers as we don’t want to incorporate too much oil in the flan. If roasting the red peppers at home in the oven, make sure to remove all the seeds, as well as to pat them dry before blending them for the flans.
Roasted red pepper flan with Pecorino sauce is a simple dish that will sure make quite an impression on your guests. Serve this as a starter and surprise your friends with a lesser known Italian recipe. The flavour of the roasted peppers combined with a delicate Pecorino bechamel is the perfect recipe for a dish that you will want to make again and again.
Roasted red pepper flan with Pecorino sauce
A lesser known Italian recipe that combines a soft roasted pepper flan with a creamy Pecorino sauce. Warm and vegetarian, this could become your next favourite antipasto recipe.
- 2-3 red bell peppers (about 600 g)
- 3 eggs
- 100 g ricotta cheese
- 100 g parmigiano (grated)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 80 g pecorino cheese (grated)
- 20 g flour
- 10 g butter
- 200 ml milk
- freshly cracked black pepper to taste
To make homemade roasted peppers
Line an oven tray with three pieces of aluminium foil so that they're slightly overlapping. Wash and dry the red peppers and place them on the oven tray so that they're each on a single aluminium foil. Bake in the oven for 1 hour at 200°C turning them every 15 minutes. When the baking time is up, take the whole tray out of the oven and wrap the roasted peppers individually in aluminium. Let cool wrapped for one hour or overnight.
To make roasted pepper flan
Peel and seed the roasted peppers, discard any excess water or oil depending on type used. The optimal quantity of cleaned roasted pepper slices to be used is about 250 grams.
Combine roasted peppers, whole eggs, ricotta, grated parmigiano and salt in a tall container and blend until smooth. Thoroughly butter the molds - even if using silicone! Flan is soft and fragile and we need to make sure it will smoothly slide out of the molds. Divide mixture into molds. Please notice that the flans will grow as they bake, so do not fill the molds to the brim to avoid spilling.
Transfer filled molds to a baking dish and fill the baking dish with water, about 1 cm. Do not skip this step as flan needs to be baked in a water bath. Place water bath dish and molds in the preheated oven and bake at 200°C for 30 minutes. The flan will rise and set as it bakes.
Remove from the oven when flans look set and the tops are starting to slightly brown. Do not overbake. Let flan rest in the molds for about 10 minutes before plating.
To make the pecorino sauce
As the flans bake in the oven, prepare the cheese sauce. Add the flour to a small saucepan and set on medium heat. Let the flour toast for a couple of minutes, then add the butter and quickly mix to make a roux. Add the cold milk and stir to combine. Do not worry if the difference in temperature causes lumps; stirring will dissolve them. Stir until the mixture reaches boiling temperature, then remove the sauce form the heat and fold in the grated pecorino. Pecorino cheese is quite salty, so there is no need to add any salt to the cheese sauce. Add freshly cracked black pepper to taste.
Pour the cheese sauce over the plated flan, or serve on the side preferably in a metal container so that the sauce keeps warm and does not thicken too quickly.
Red pepper quantity:
- if roasting red peppers you need to use 2-3 fresh bell peppers, depending on their size. The total weight should be about 600 grams raw and whole. Baked and cleaned the weight will be reduced to 250-300 g.
- If using ready to eat roasted peppers (for exampe jarred, preserved in oil) you will need 250 g.