Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Spring Allium Cheese Souffles, and Roasted Asparagus
The other day someone asked me, 'Is it true that if you look at a souffle the wrong way it will fall?'
Souffles seem to have more drama and mystique surrounding them than any other food I can think of. In fact, there is nothing difficult about making them, and despite their fragile and finicky reputation and ethereal texture, they are actually surprisingly sturdy. Another thing that may surprise you is that a cooled souffle will actually puff up again upon reheating. Not as high, mind, but enough to give it that coveted airy quality.
Making souffle is not hard. It requires a few steps which you want to pay attention to, such as making a roux, whipping the whites to the correct whippiness and folding them into the base, but all are quite manageable.
What I consider to be the unmanageable part is cleaning up after making souffles, which generate a surprising amount of dirty dishes. There's the cutting board, knife, skillet and spatula from cooking the alliums, the pot, spoon and whisk from making the roux, two bowls and a second whisk for the egg whites and the souffle base, ramekins, zester, baking sheet, cheese grater... sheesh, the list just goes on and on.
I abhor doing dishes, and will actively avoid doing so, even if (especially if!) it means that I just keep baking in order to procrastinate that onerous task. In fact, much of the appeal of cooking is that it absolves me from cleaning up afterwards.
And yes, I am aware that continuing to bake only generates more dishes.
Luckily for me, I live with not only a brilliant computer programmer, but also the best dishwasher in existence. Not only is Jay both efficient and meticulous at cleaning, he actually claims to enjoy doing it.
It is unfathomable.
Back to the souffle histrionics, I've also read advice to not invite late people to a souffle-based dinner party. As a late person who throws the occasional dinner party, this leaves me wondering whether there are actually people out there who have dinner ready before their guests arrive, rather than cooking the majority of the meal in a somewhat frantic manner while the guests hover about asking if they can help.
Which is usually the point at which I gesture helplessly to the pile of dishes in the sink.
Just kidding; I really herd them into the living room with drinks and apps to keep them occupied.
I actually prefer souffle for a leisurely bojon breakfast (which usually occurs around noon) to dinner. And sweet souffles aren't really my thing - sweet eggs? Blech. But a gooey, custardy puff flavored with masses of chives, spring onions and green garlic, as well as parmesean and goat gouda: now that's one badass bojon breakfast.
Other herbs would be lovely here in place of or in addition to the chives; thyme, marjoram, chervil or basil would all be divine. I used a mild dutch goat gouda for the main cheese, but a soft chevre, gruyere or a sharp cheddar would all be good too. A side of oven-roasted asparagus makes a simple accompaniment; a crisp salad with fennel, radishes and a citrusy vinaigrette would take this meal over the top.
And a mimosa on the side couldn't hurt, either.
Just remember: the souffle will fall, eventually. There is nothing you can do about it. So have everything ready for the rest of the meal so you can sit down to eat as soon as they emerge from the oven. Don't dilly dally. Carpe souffle.
And leave the dishes for later.
Spring Allium and Two-Cheese Souffles
Makes 5 - 6 pint-sized souffles, or 1 big one, serving 5 - 6
You can either bake these individually, in 2-cup ramekins, or in one large gratin dish. I used a mild dutch goat gouda in these souffles, but gruyere, cheddar or a fresh goat cheese would all be good, too. Other herbs could be added with or in place of the chives. You can use the two leftover egg yolks to make a half batch of ice cream, creme caramels, or try Heidi Swanson's awesome tapioca pudding.
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) grated parmesan
2 stalks green garlic, finely chopped
2 small spring onions, finely chopped
zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/4 cups milk or half and half
4 egg yolks
6 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup (4 ounces) grated cheese, or crumbled chevre
1/4 cup minced chives
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425º.
Grease the ramekins with 1 tablespoon of the butter, and coat evenly with 2 tablespoons of the parmesan. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
Place the chopped green garlic and spring onions in a large bowl and soak in cool water for a few minutes, swishing occasionally to loosen any sand or dirt that might be hanging on.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over a medium-high flame. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter, then lift the alliums out of their soaking water, shake off excess water, and toss them in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium, add a few pinches of salt and the lemon zest, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned, 10 minutes or so. Add the lemon juice and remove from the heat. Let cool slightly.
Make the bechamel:
Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for a minute, then whisk in the milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking constantly, and cook for a few more minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and add 3/4 teaspoon salt. Let the bechamel cool slightly, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.
Have the egg yolks in a large bowl, and slowly whisk in the slightly cooled bechamel. Stir in the cheese, alliums, the remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan, and the chives.
In a second large, clean bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) whip the whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. (This means that when you lift the beater out of the bowl and turn the beater upside down, a peak of egg white should flop over.) Use a large, rubber spatula to immediately stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the souffle batter until almost combined, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites just until no streaks or lumps of egg white remain.
Divide the batter among the ramekins, filling them 1/4-1/2" from the top. Place in the oven and turn the temperature down to 400º. Bake for 20-25 minutes, opening the oven as infrequently as possible, until the souffles are puffed and nicely browned. (The baking time will be longer for 1 large souffle, maybe 35-45 minutes.)
Serve immediately from the oven. If you have extras, cool and store in the fridge for up to a few days. The souffles reheat beautifully, even puffing up a second time, though not as high, in a 350º oven or toaster oven.
This makes a lovely and easy accompaniment to the souffles, as the asparagus can bake alongside the souffles.
1 bunch asparagus, ends snapped off
1 tablespoon olive oil
a few pinches of salt
a squeeze of lemon juice
Lay the asparagus spears on a small baking sheet. Drizzle over the olive oil and salt, tossing to coat, then roast in a 400º oven until tender and slightly charred in places, 10 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and drizzle over the lemon juice.