Soufflés: Fast Summer Fare

souffle017For light summer fare, soufflés will spin their golden web around most crops in season: asparagus, chard, spinach, zucchini or eggplant. A quick sauté of ratatouille folded into whipped egg whites transforms ordinary leftovers into a sophisticated main dish. And soufflés are far easier than you may believe.

Elegant, easy, economical, soufflés can be made in 15 minutes and baked in 30. Even so, there’s a prevailing anxiety about getting the masterpiece to the table. High rising, golden brown and aromatic, the crisp dome defies gravity. Within minutes the soufflé begins to deflate. Instead of lamenting the loss of volume, consider a soufflé to be the cherry blossom of the culinary world. Enjoy the brief season and savor the moment.

A Perfect Union Of Yolks And Whites

A soufflé is custard made from yolks combined with whipped egg whites. Together, they form a perfect union. A potato, mushroom, or classic cheese soufflé make a substantial entrée in winter, but summer offers a wider variety of vegetables, especially companionable pairs, like peas and mint, or corn and poblano peppers. Nearly any vegetable from the garden or farmers market is a candidate.

It all begins by separating whites from yolks. Once you have the whites in a large mixing bowl, add a few pinches of cream of tartar. This sugary powder from grapes will add ballast to the whites and they’ll whip faster. Whip the whites until they make stiff peaks and then set aside.

Now for the custard: soufflés are concocted from a basic roux. That’s equal amounts of white flour and butter or oil. About two tablespoons of flour and two tablespoon of butter or olive oil will be a binder for milk. Using a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the oil and flour until it forms a paste. Pour about a cup of milk—any kind—and stir constantly with a heavy spoon until a creamy sauce forms. At first the small beads of oil will bob about in the milk. Gradually, with the alchemy of heat, the beads will dissolve into a smooth sauce. Remove the custard from the heat and sprinkle in the grated cheese.

Companion Your Cheese And Vegetable

Nearly any cheese will do, but cheese sets the mood for flavor. A spinach or chard soufflé will take Parmesan or Gruyere. A leek, broccoli or scallion soufflé cries out for Cheddar. Perhaps green chilies? Try a mild Jack. Consider mixing a few, too. Perhaps Fontina and Parmesan would be perfect for asparagus. There’s only one requirement: the vegetable you add must be cooked. It will not cook if added raw to your soufflé.

If you have any leftover vegetables, this is the perfect transformation. Chop them finely and add to the sauce. If not, sauté or steam the vegetable of your choice. Zucchini and yellow squash will work best if they are grated and sautéed rather than chopped or sliced. You want the vegetables to be in small pieces. That’s one reason why spinach and chard work so well. They will dissolve into the soufflé, leaving lovely flecks of green throughout the golden puff.

Fresh herbs take a different approach. You can mince parsley. Add a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves, or dill–any fresh herb that you enjoy. They will be best added fresh, rather than cooked, and should can be sprinkled in when the custard is folded into the egg whites at the very last minute.

Assembling The Soufflé

After folding in the vegetables, stir in beaten yolks. These are added last so that they won’t curdle from the heat. That’s also why the roux is taken off the heat to stir in the cheese and vegetables. By the time you get to the yolks, the sauce has cooled.

The oven has been preheated to 350 degrees. Some cooks like a higher oven, it all depends on how crusty you want the soufflé to be, so once you are smitten by soufflés, experiment.

Prepare a casserole dish with high, straight sides that is at least twice the height of your mixture. Preparation requires a bit of oil or butter rubbed inside. Now it’s time to revisit the whites.

If the whites appear to have deflated and lost some volume, return to the mixer. Whip them into a peak stage once again. If you crave volume, you can add additional egg whites and save the yolks for another recipe. The whites have reached a consistency for volume when peaks form. This means that if you drip egg white one drop on top of another, they will stay in place and not melt into the mixture.

Now you can fold the custard mixture into the whites, every so gently but thoroughly. Don’t mix vigorously because it’s not necessary and will simply deflate the whites. Pour the combined mixture into the casserole. Place the soufflé into the oven and set the timer for about 30 minutes.

Experiment And Find The Soufflé That You Prefer

A soufflé should be checked without opening the oven door. But even if you must look inside, by the time the soufflé has risen, it won’t make much difference. Also, it’s not necessary for a soufflé to be a giant puff to be delicious. It need only be cooked through.

Once you have mastered the basics, a soufflé is a blank canvas for seasonal flavors or a variety of cheeses and herbs. It’s fast, cheap and beautiful–as perfect for a fancy lunch as a light dinner.

Soufflés can be baked in individual ramekins. Pour the mixture into no more than half the small bowl. Allow at least two eggs for each serving and adjust the basic recipe. For a larger soufflé, increase baking time. If you go over eight eggs, try two soufflés. Too large a recipe and the soufflé will turn crispy on the outside, but stay raw in the inside.

Recipe: Basic Vegetable Soufflé

Choose a soufflé dish or casserole that is about four inches deep and wide. Butter or oil the inside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you want a darker crust, start at 400 degrees and turn down the heat to 350 degrees after you put in the soufflé.

  • 2 tablespoons of oil, like canola, or butter
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 cup of milk, any kind
  • ½ cup of cheese, of 1 cup if you like it cheesier
  • 1 cup of minced, cooked vegetables, or ½ cup of vegetables
  • 4 to 6 egg yolks
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the meringue:

  • 4 to 6 egg whites, add two more if you want more volume. Although two egg whites may not sound like much, they will provide a thicker meringue that will rise higher and hold its shape longer. However, your soufflé will be just as delicious with an even number of yolks and whites.
  • Pinch of cream of tartar

Prepare according to the above directions. Set a timer for 30 to 35 minutes and check the soufflé after 30 minutes. If it is pale, allow it to cook for five more minutes or until the top is golden brown.