Spring onion gratin

Spring onion gratin

Sformato di cipollotti

4 as a side
Emiko Davies; Lauren Bamford

The sformato is quite an old-fashioned side dish – it just takes one glance at Pellegrino Artusi’s cookbook, which lists eighteen different sformati (four of which are desserts), to realise how popular they were on Italian tables in the nineteenth century. It’s easy to see why – it’s such a simple preparation and it feeds a large table effortlessly. It’s the type of dish that has survived so long partly because it’s so homely and comforting, much like anything soft, cheesy and creamy, if you ask me.

Sformati are often prepared with a single seasonal vegetable, which are cooked and sometimes even puréed so that the dish remains creamy. My favourites, other than this one, have English spinach, cardoons or artichoke. Sometimes they are baked in a water bath, which is why sformato is often translated to the English word ‘flan’ (much like the wobbly custard dessert, like a crème caramel). But I like the crunch of the golden-brown edges and top when baked like the French gratin.

This flan of sweet spring onions (scallions) and creamy bechamel sauce is traditionally served as a side to Wild Boar Stew in the Maremma. It’s a wonderful match, much like mashed potatoes and soft polenta are perfect alongside rich, gamey meat stews. But it’s also just as nice with roast chicken or baked fish.


Quantity Ingredient
25g butter
25g plain flour
250ml milk, warmed
250g spring onions
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
60g grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
35g fine dry breadcrumbs


  1. Prepare the bechamel sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan with the flour over low heat. Mix together, stirring often (I like a wooden spoon, some like silicone spatulas), and let it bubble and simmer for 1–2 minutes. Add the warm milk (do make sure it is warm, as this helps avoid lumps), stirring as you pour it all in to make a smooth mixture. Cook, stirring, until the sauce is thick, smooth and coats the back of the spoon easily, a few minutes. Remove from the heat and let it cool. You can also prepare this in advance.
  2. Rinse the spring onions of any dirt, remove the outermost layer, cut off the roots and discard. Slice the spring onions finely using all of the white part and the pale green part. Discard the dark green tops.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over low–medium heat and add the spring onions, along with a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until very soft but not coloured. You may want to add about 60 ml of water during cooking to prevent any burning or sticking. Remove from the heat and let it cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  5. Combine the cooled bechamel and onions together in a bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Add the egg, nutmeg and half of the cheese and mix through. Pour into a lightly greased ovenproof dish – a 20 cm square or 20 x 25 cm rectangular one works well.
  6. In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the grated cheese and the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the flan and drizzle over the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Bake until golden brown, about 25–30 minutes.


  • Out of season, you can replace the spring onions with 4 leeks – these are just as good, if not better.
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