The inauguration of the Supernova oven demanded a special recipe. Soufflé had been on my mind for a long time, so all I needed to do was pick a flavor. A parenthesis is necessary. I’d lived for 16 years in a place that did not have frozen artichoke hearts for sale in any grocery store. I was in a state of permanent frozen artichoke withdrawal syndrome, only relieved during sabbatical experiences like the one in Los Angeles. The move to Kansas last year marked the end of my frozen artichoke misery. I now keep those cute little bags in our freezer, and never run out of them. End of parenthesis. Having said all that, artichoke was a natural option to flavor my soufflé. To make it even more special, the bechamel base would be flavored with saffron. Artichoke hearts. Saffron. Case closed.
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, following Julia Child’s basic method)
6-cup mold, buttered and sprinkled with grated Parmigiano cheese
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 cup hot milk
good pinch of saffron
1/2 t salt
1/8 t pepper
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites + pinch of salt
3/4 cup artichoke hearts, sautéed slightly in olive oil
1/8 cup Fontina cheese, grated
Heat the milk almost to the point of boiling, add the saffron and let it rest for 15 minutes. Melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, don’t allow it to brown. Remove from the heat, and when the butter stops furiously boiling, add the saffron/milk all at once. Return to medium heat and cook, stirring constantly for a couple of minutes more. The sauce will thicken considerably. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove from heat, allow it to cool for 5 minutes or so, and add the egg yolks, one by one, mixing very well after each addition. This sauce can be prepared to this point and refrigerated; bring it to lukewarm before continuing. If you decide not to refrigerate it, then dot it with butter, cover it with a plastic wrap and go work on the egg whites.
Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until firm peaks form – depending on your mixer or the strength of your biceps it will take 2 to 5 minutes. Add 1/3 of this mixture to the sauce, to thin it slightly – add the prepared artichoke hearts and the Fontina cheese, mix well. I like to keep the artichoke hearts in chunks, but if you prefer you can cut them in very small pieces.
Now, add the remaining egg whites and fold into the sauce. You don’t need to mix it until it is all incorporated and totally homogeneous, because the “lift” of your souffle’ depends on the air present in the beaten egg whites. If you deflate it, you won’t have a well-risen souffle (it will still taste good, though).
Fill the souffle’ mold to 3/4 of its volume, place it in a 400F oven, reducing the temperature immediately to 375F. Cook the souffle’ for 30 minutes – do not open the oven door during the first 20 minutes. If you like it moist inside, serve after 30 minutes. I prefer to cook for 5 additional minutes, then the texture inside is perfect, not too dry, not too creamy.
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Comments: A friend of mine recently asked me what I would do to get some drama into my life now that the kitchen hellnovation is over. Rest assured, Drama and Sally go hand in hand. Birds of a feather. Two of a kind. Peas in a pod.
I am not a soufflé-novice, and in fact it is one type of dish I’m pretty comfortable making, even for company. However, since the timing is so important, I normally prefer to make soufflé just for the two of us. I suppose it’s acceptable to throw a hysterical fit screaming at the husband to come sit at the table “RIGHT NOW!” but guests might be put off and never accept another invitation. Anyway, I was pretty confident making my concoction, prepared the bechamel based infused with saffron, sautéed the artichoke hearts, whipped up the egg whites. The oven was on, the beautiful blue indicator light had turned off, sign that Supernova had reached proper temperature.
Huge smile, I opened the oven door, and the smile became a shriek of horror followed by a “NOOOOOOOOO!” that could have awaken the dead. I forgot that we had assembled all the racks the day before, and there was no space in between them, so the only thing that could go in would be a sheet pan. Drama? You bet. Beloved husband tried to help but I advised him to leave the premises and take all canines with him. He complied. That’s when I stopped thinking rationally. I quickly put oven mittens on both hands, grabbed one of the racks, pulled it out, ran frantically around trying to find a spot where it could rest without burning any surface, re-arranged the other racks and finally placed the souffle dish inside.
Slammed Closed the oven door, and noticed that the indicator light was back on. And on it stayed for quite some time (sigh). In other words, instead of going into a 400F oven, my production went into an environment that was more like 300F. Clear soufflé-abuse. I kept staring through the oven’s window, knowing that the first 15 minutes pretty much decide the fate of your souffle as far as rising goes. Mine was struggling. In retrospect, I should have waited for the oven to reach proper temperature, and only then placed the souffle in. The base is actually very forgiving, it can wait for a while before baking. I knew that, but I wasn’t thinking. Lesson painfully learned.
However, as I’ve said many times before, taste matters more than looks. And this was one tasty soufflé, my friends! Artichokes and saffron: a pair made in heaven, like peas in a pod, birds of a feather, Sally and Drama. 😉
ONE YEAR AGO: Cinnamon-Wreath