By now, regular readers might have formed the impression that the core ingredients for almost all of our meals come from land-based animals. That is close to the truth. We do eat fish but usually cooked in a way that is simple, so not particularly blog-worthy; ditto for scallops and prawns.
As for vegetables, we have as many as 20 different types in the fridge or pantry at any given time but mostly they are used to make side dishes and salads or as ingredients in a soup or braise; in fact the majority of our favourite soups are made only from vegetables.
Before Maggie and I became partners in 2004, I had several vegetarian dishes on my repertoire – quiches, filo pies, omelettes, pizzas and, for over 30 years, the occasional soufflé, either carrot, spinach or cauliflower. Maggie, on the other hand, brought a long-standing aversion to most vegetables into our kitchen; no allergies, just didn’t like them, or wouldn’t. Cauliflower was near the top of the anti-wish list.
Her attitude began to soften when we read a recipe that used black pudding (one of her favourite offal treats), seared scallops and a puree of the white stuff to create an attractive dish. A day or so later, a small, pretty and fresh cauliflower caught her attention and she just had to bring it home. We tested the recipe, decided on modifications and slid the cauliflower component into our mashed potato recipe.
So, with cauliflower allowed in the house, I revived the soufflé and Maggie liked that too; it was even added to our collection of favourite recipes. I made it again yesterday and it turned out pretty well, visually and to the palate.
It can take a few tries to master the art of making a soufflé, including how it behaves in your own oven. However, it is worth persevering, as nothing quite matches a soufflé for its combination of texture and flavour. Fresh, in-season cauliflower goes really well in a soufflé, even adding a hint of natural sweetness.
basic béchamel sauce made using 1 cup of milk
100g cheddar cheese, grated
generous pinch of grated nutmeg
2 tsp Dijon mustard
- Prepare the béchamel sauce. When it has finished thickening, remove from the heat, add the cheese, nutmeg and mustard and stir to combine well.
- Divide the cauliflower into several smaller pieces and remove thicker parts of the stems. (You should end up with about 250g.) Steam the cauliflower for at least 15 minutes, until the stems are tender but not falling apart.
- Transfer the cauliflower to a large mixing bowl and, when it is no longer giving off steam, mash it to a coarse but even consistency. Add the béchamel sauce to the bowl and stir to combine.
- Preheat oven to 175C.
- Separate the eggs, placing the 4 whites in a separate clean mixing bowl. Add 3 of the yolks to the large mixing bowl. Stir well to combine. Adjust seasoning – you might need to add a pinch or two of salt or a couple of teaspoons of pecorino or parmesan.
- Grease two 1 litre soufflé basins with butter. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs into each basin and tilt the basins to spread the crumbs over the bases and sides.
- Whisk the egg whites until creamy and firm. Add about half to the main bowl and, using a large metal spoon, fold gently through the mixture. Add the remaining egg white and complete the folding.
- Divide the mixture between the two basins and run a finger around the rim of the top surface of the soufflé. The soufflé will rise within this flattened edge.
- Transfer to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. If you have to open your oven to turn the basins to achieve even cooking – as we do – be quick but open and close the oven door gently. When cooked, the soufflé should be well risen and browned.
The first photo below shows the cauliflower before it was steamed; the second one shows the mixture of cauliflower, béchamel and egg yolks. (Maggie wasn’t around for the preparation period and I forgot to take other photos of the method.)
We served the soufflé with lightly-boiled fresh asparagus – in peak season right now – and a mixture of bacon and mushrooms.