We first discovered parmesan custards in Florence, at one of the more memorable dinners we had on our first trip to Italy as a couple. They were served as part of a multi-course dinner at Cibrèo ristorante. If you are having a dinner party and want to impress your guests, these are an easy way to do it. We’ve referred to them as parmesan custards, but you can use any hard Italian cheese. We used Grana Padano (c/o), one of our favorites.
When we say easy, we mean it. If you can boil water, you can make these custards. The prep time is minimal (less than 5 minutes). Start by buttering six small ceramic molds or ramekins (some suggestions here, here, and here). The molds we used are actually tiny ceramic bakers that Andante Dairy sometimes sells a soft cheese in, oven-ready. We’ve bought more of this cheese than we should admit, so we’ve accumulated a collection of molds.
Next, measure out your half and half and grated cheese. We use these flexible measuring cups every day, and they make recipes like this really easy. We just mix all the ingredients in the largest one we have, then pour the mixture into the molds without making a mess. Start by mixing the eggs and half and half until the mixture is smooth, then add the cheese and season with salt and pepper. We just used a small whisk to make sure everything was fully combined.
Line up the filled molds in the bottom of a roasting pan and pour boiling water into the pan (not into the molds!) until the water comes halfway up the sides of the molds. When Clayton made these, he forgot to use boiling water and they came out fine, it just took about twice as long to bake. Cover the roasting pan loosely with foil and bake until the custards are set. You can tell they are finished when the center stops jiggling if you shake the mold.
We topped our custards with first-of-the-season Adriatic figs that were over-ripe and drizzled them with Saba (we use this one), one of our favorite sauces to drizzle over finished dishes.
Saba, or mosto cotto, is a thick Italian syrup that looks similar to true balsamic vinegar. It’s made from cooked down grape must but can be more affordable than true balsamic. According to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, Saba was the original sweeter for Europeans. Before using cane sugar, they used saba, cooked down grapes, to sweeten their foods. Saba has sweet fig like flavor to it yet has a slight tartness, so it’s perfect to top things like cheese or desserts.
- Pre-heat oven to 350F.
- Butter molds. If you like, cut circles of parchment paper to line the bottom.
- In a bowl, mix half and half, eggs, cheese, and a pinch of salt, and freshly ground pepper. Spoon the mixture into the prepared molds.
- Place molds in a roasting pan. Fill the pan with boiling water so that it reaches halfway up the sides of the molds.
- Cover the roasting pan with foil and bake 25-30 minutes, or until the custards set.
- Top custards with figs and drizzle with saba.