When Gil and I visited Milan last year, we had quite a few memorable meals, as you can imagine, and most of them were within walking distance of our hotel. The pizza at a nearby trattoria (run by Chinese immigrants in the dead-after-dark financial district) was leagues better than anything we’ve ever tried in the States, and the revelatory salumi at Osteria del Treno still makes it challenging for us to completely enjoy local cured meats (though I do have my eye on a couple of mail order purveyors). But my favorite dish of the trip, the one I recall with a sigh, had to be the parmesan flan at Joia.

The soft, cakey exterior of the flan spilled its secret as I cut my first bite and discovered a pool of parmesan flooding out to greet me. Much like the moment of piercing a poached egg yolk and realizing there are only a few fleeting seconds to truly enjoy the sensation at its finest, it filled me with delight and longing. But the ephemeral joys of these dishes are part of the reason we love them so, aren’t they?

Cooking Light published a recipe for parmesan flan in their most recent issue and I considered making it, but didn’t think it’d come even close to what I remembered, so I hit the interweb looking for a better more sinful recipe. I found it at Weir Cooking in the City. I did like CL’s idea of using fresh tomatoes as a topping, though, so I prepared a few heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market in my favorite summery way — doused with fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar and shot through with minced garlic and slivered basil, with salt & pepper to taste. It’s simple and delicious as a bruschetta topping, on crackers, as a topping for fish or pasta, or even eaten on its own in great spoonfuls. Yum.

I forgot that convection ovens cook a little faster than regular ovens do, so the flans were a little crusty on top, but still completely delicious. I’ll keep looking for a recipe that duplicates that glorious parmesan flood, but until then, this flan is staying in the rotation.

recipe after the jump

Parmesan Flan from Weir Cooking in the City

Since the flavor of the cheese is front and center in this dish, buy the best you can find or afford. You’ll be glad you did — this isn’t a time to pinch pennies.

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 8 ounces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Generously butter six 5-ounce ramekins.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly, and cook, stirring until it thickens, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the eggs, Whisk well. Add the cheese, season with salt and pepper, and stir until well mixed.

Pour the mixture into the prepared ramekins. Place in a baking dish. Pour in enough boiling water to come 1 inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the flans are puffed and firm to the touch, 30 minutes.

When the flans are done, remove them from the water bath. Run a knife around the edge and remove the flans from the ramekins.

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