- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I love Thanksgiving, the holiday that more than any other revolves around sharing food with family and friends — and I know that my family expects certain dishes to be part of the celebration.

In addition to the big roasted bird, our menu always includes Southern corn-bread dressing, crimson-hued cranberry relish and orange-glazed sweet potatoes. They are mainstays that my husband, son and daughter-in-law look forward to every year. That still leaves me plenty of room to add new creations: an interesting opener, a vegetable dish with an unusual accent, or a dessert that features pumpkin other than in a pie.

I’ve decided to begin our meal this year with a delicious, make-ahead first course that I haven’t served before. The idea came to me after poring over dozens of cookbooks. In one of them, I saw a recipe for savory flans and was reminded just how easy they are to prepare and how varied the flavorings can be. It didn’t take me long to settle on wild mushrooms as a seasoning for my Thanksgiving flans.

I sauteed shiitake, crimini and oyster mushrooms, spooned them into buttered ramekins, then added cream, eggs and Parmesan cheese. After the flans are baked they are unmolded and sprinkled with extra Parmesan and parsley.

I like this mushroom combination and found all three varieties packaged together at my local supermarket. However, you could prepare the flans with all criminis or all shiitakes, if you like.

These savory little custards have several winning attributes that are helpful for holiday entertaining. They can be baked a day ahead and reheated for 10 to 15 minutes when needed. Although a recipe yields six servings, it can easily be doubled or tripled. None of the ingredients, including the mushrooms, is difficult to find. Best of all, they can make a distinctive opening to a meal of your own favorites on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving wild mushroom flans

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the ramekins

8 ounces mixed mushrooms such as shiitake, crimini and oyster

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley, divided

1 cup heavy or whipping cream

4 large eggs

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

Butter 6 ½-cup ramekins, souffle or custard cups. Line them with rounds of parchment or waxed paper cut to fit the bottoms. Butter the papers. Place ramekins in a baking pan large enough to hold them in a single layer.

Rinse mushrooms well in a large strainer under cold water to remove any grit, then pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Remove and discard stems from shiitakes. Slice all mushrooms into bite-size pieces.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they are browned and softened and all the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring 1 minute more. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, several grindings of black pepper and 1 tablespoon parsley. Divide mushrooms evenly among ramekins, covering bottom of each ramekin with some of the mixture.

In a mixing bowl whisk together cream, eggs, 1/3 cup Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt and several grindings of pepper until well mixed. Transfer cream mixture to a 2-cup or larger measuring cup with a spout and pour it into the ramekins, filling them almost to the top.

Pour enough hot water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Carefully place pan on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven. As flans bake, they will puff up. Bake until flans are set and a small, sharp knife inserted into centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Using potholders, remove ramekins from pan to a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Flans will deflate as they cool. (Flans can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and reheat, uncovered, on a baking sheet in a preheated 350-degree oven, 10 to 15 minutes.)

Loosen edges of flans with a small sharp knife, then invert flans and remove and discard paper. Place one flan on each of 6 salad plates and sprinkle with some of remaining cheese and parsley. Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.

Note: If you want to double or triple this recipe but have only six ramekins, bake a single recipe, cool flans 5 minutes, then unmold them onto a baking sheet. Clean ramekins, then bake and unmold the second group onto the baking sheet. Cool, cover and refrigerate unmolded flans. Reheat them, uncovered, on the baking sheet in a preheated 350-degree oven, 10 to 15 minutes. Use a metal spatula to transfer flans to salad plates.


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