Farmer’s markets often sell the tastiest vegetables and fruits, but fresh, local food isn’t the only reason to seek them out. Lovely outdoor environments and knowledgeable, friendly people with colorful stories about the food they grow and sell are perks you definitely don’t get at the A&P. So, even though the growing season here in Northeast Ohio is just getting started, I look forward to getting back to my local farmer’s market. Last week there was arugula, spinach, chard, mushrooms, honey, maple syrup, cheese and lots of eggs. Definitely enough to stir my imagination. Thanks to spring’s unexpected largesse, my thoughts turned to making a fluffy goat cheese and arugula soufflé for dinner. Dense and rich in flavor yet airy and light at the same time, a soufflé is the oxymoron of the food world. Paired with a crispy baguette and a light salad, who could want for more?
There is no reason to be faint of heart at the thought of making a soufflé. They are really pretty easy to make and so delicious and exciting to eat. It’s fun to watch a soufflé rise in the oven and it’s absolute theatre to set one dramatically, yet gently down on the dining room table for all to dig in. I have a thing for bitter arugula and the tangy prize winning goat cheese from local Mackenzie Creamery. But, let’s face it, the star of any soufflé is the eggs and on this lucky day I scored the most beautiful eggs in the world…from Arucana chickens. The intensely flavored yolks are a rich, bright orange, but good taste is only half their appeal. They are so gorgeous to look at in restful shades of beige, brown, blue and green that it’s kind of a shame to break them. When I asked the Egg Lady why those particular chickens laid such colorful eggs she replied that chickens lay eggs with shells the same color as their ears. Have you ever thought of chicken ears? Of course they must have ears somewhere under all those feathers, right? Thinking about chickens with enormous blue, green and brown elf ears, I bought 2 dozen on the spot.
So there you have it, straight from Egg Lady’s lips, the most colorful and by far the best farmer’s market story of the day which I am now passing along to you with a recipe for a yummy, cheesy soufflé. Buk, buk, buk, bukaaaa. You’re welcome.
Kitchen Counter Point: Since time seems to be the enemy in the kitchen these days, I thought I’d give some tips on how to make a soufflé quickly and easily.
1) Start with room temperature eggs. The whites always beat up better warm rather than cold. Lay them out on the counter 30 minutes before you start the soufflé. Or, if you’re in a hurry and the eggs are cold from the fridge, just place them in hottish water for a few minutes to warm them up.
2) Make the base ahead of time. The base is just a basic white sauce, egg yolks and the flavoring. You can make it earlier in the day or even the night before and keep it refrigerated until about 40 minutes before you’re ready to eat. Warm the base up to room temperature, whip up the egg whites and fold them together, bake, eat, yum.
3) Don’t over beat the whites. When they are over beaten, the air bubbles are more likely to burst when folding them into the yolks. Just beat them with a hand mixer or stand mixer until soft peaks form, and then whip another 20 seconds or so. You know they are firm when you remove one of the beaters and the whites form a stiff pointy peak on the end of the beater.
4) Fold gently with your widest spatula and not overmuch. Folding is a technique used to mix airy, foamy ingredients. Using a large spatula, scoop the mixture up and over onto itself until blended. It is important not to over mix so that most of the air bubbles in the mixture remain to puff the soufflé when heated in the oven. It isn’t necessary to completely fold the whites into the yolks with each addition. Some streaks are ok.
5) Assemble the soufflé 1 hour ahead of time. It will keep on the kitchen counter with a bowl inverted over it for up to 1 hour. Then just pop it in the preheated oven. It really works!
Serves 4 to 6
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, divided
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, divided
4 large handfuls arugula, tough stems removed
1 shallot, minced
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk, heated
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
6 large egg yolks
8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup Gruyere, grated
8 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of salt
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F.
Butter the bottom and up the sides of an 8-cup soufflé mold with 1 tablespoon of the butter and coat the inside of the mold with a few tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese.
Bring a 2-quart saucepan of salted water to a simmer. Add the arugula and when wilted, about 20 seconds, drain and rinse under cold running water. Squeeze dry and chop finely by hand. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté for 2 minutes or until translucent. Add the flour and cook over medium heat stirring until the butter foams, about 2 minutes. Quickly pour in the hot milk, whisking until blended. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne and boil for 1 minute. The sauce will be thick. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and cool for 3 minutes. Whisk in the yolks, one at a time and then stir in the arugula, goat cheese and Gruyere. It’s ok if the cheese remains lumpy but it will probably melt. Reserve. (The soufflé base can be made up to this point a day ahead, kept covered and refrigerated. Let come back to room temperature before resuming the recipe.)
Beat the egg whites and a pinch of salt in a stand mixer with the whisk, using a hand held mixer or by hand using a balloon whisk (a big one) until the whites are stiff. Fold 1/4 of the whites into the soufflé base to lighten it then fold in half the whites, leaving streaks, then add the rest of the whites folding carefully but completely.
Turn the soufflé into the prepared mold and smooth the top. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over the top.
Quickly place the soufflé in the lower third of the oven. Turn the heat down to 375 degrees F. and bake for 30 to 35 minutes without opening the oven door to check on it. It is done when puffed and the center is no longer runny. To test, plunge a wooden skewer down the center of the soufflé. If it comes up dry, the soufflé is done. If wet with uncooked egg, bake for another 5 minutes and check again. Serve immediately.