At a recent cooking class that featured bouillabaisse as the main course, I was surprised not only by my students’ excitement over the famous Provencal fish soup, but also by their raves for the simple appetizers. In keeping with the Provencal theme, mini-chèvre flans topped with a colorful mélange of chopped tomatoes, fresh herbs, and walnuts were an instant success.
Perhaps it was the simplicity of these starters or the seamless blending of flavors that made them so popular. All I can report is that this hands-on class of 15 downed almost four dozen in less than 15 minutes!
You’ll need mini-muffin tins to make them. For the custard mixture, you whisk together eggs, cream, goat cheese, and Parmesan, pour the mixture into the molds, and bake for about 20 minutes. The garnish of chopped summer tomatoes, fresh basil and mint, plus toasted walnuts takes little more than 10 minutes to assemble.
Open a bottle of rosé or offer glasses of pastis (anise-scented liqueur combined with water) to serve with these delectable openers, delicious warm or at room temperature.
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Mini-Chèvre Flans topped with Tomatoes, Walnuts and Basil
3 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
5 oz creamy goat cheese such as Chavrie, broken into small pieces
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper
Nonstick vegetable cooking spray
Tomato, Walnut, and Basil Topping
3/4 cup finely diced unpeeled, but seeded tomatoes
3 tbsp walnuts, toasted and chopped (see note)
3 tbsp chopped basil
1 tbsp chopped mint
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt
1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two nonstick muffin tins (with twelve 1 3/4-inch molds each) with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.
2. For flans, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, goat cheese, Parmesan cheese, and several grinds of pepper until blended. Pour (using a large measuring cup with a spout) or ladle the mixture into the molds. Bake until the custards are set and slightly browned around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove muffin tins from the oven and cool 5 minutes. Flans will deflate, losing their puffiness. (Flans can be made 1 day ahead; cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate, Reheat uncovered in a preheated 350 degree oven 10 to 15 minutes.
3. For topping, salt the diced tomatoes and drain in a strainer over a bowl for 5 minutes. Then combine drained tomatoes in another bowl with walnuts, basil, mint, garlic, and olive oil. Toss to combine and season with salt and pepper. (Topping can be prepared 1 hour ahead; leave at room temperature uncovered.)
5. To serve, run a sharp knife around the inside of the molds and gently lift out the flans.
Place on a serving plate and spoon some of the tomato topping on each. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 24 flans.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2016