Few dishes have the elegance of a hot soufflee. The fluffy baked foam of egg and flavorings has the reputation of being very difficult to make, but really, only two parts of the preparation are unusual. First, you need straight-sided soufflee dishes, specifically made for that purpose, and useful for almost nothing else. (And hard to stack in your cupboard, to boot.) I recommend four-inch-diameter soufflee dishes. Second, you need to hang around keeping your eyes on the things as they bake. It's not as all-consuming as making a roux, but nearly so.
While most cheese soufflees involve Cheddar cheese, I find the superb melting qualities of Fontina work better, balanced with the tanginess of Pecorino Romano.
- 1/4 cup very finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3 Tbs. flour
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 cup coarsely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, loosely packed
- 8 oz. Fontina cheese, cut into small cubes
- 8 large egg whites, completely free of yolk
- 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
1. With your fingers, apply a thin film of softened butter to the insides of the soufflee dishes. Spoon some of the finely-grated Romano cheese into each dish. Cover with your hand and shake until the insides of the dish are coated with the cheese. Set the dishes in the refrigerator while you carry on.
2. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, and allow to cook until it stops bubbling. Combine the Creole seasoning, salt and flour, and add to the butter. Raise the heat to medium-high and stir with a wooden spoon until it becomes a blond roux.
3. Add the chicken stock and milk. Whisk until the mixture thickens, and continue to whisk until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat.
4. Beat the egg yolks with a whisk or electric mixer until they become thick and much lighter in color. Whisk this, a little at a time, until the eggs disappear into the sauce.
5. Add all the remaining Romano cheese and the Fontina cheese to the sauce. Stir with a whisk until completely smooth. (If necessary to finish the melting, turn the heat back on low. Turn it off again after the cheese is melted in.)
6. In a clean bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until peaks form. Gently stir about a third of the beaten whites into the cheese mixture with a rubber spatula. When blended, fold in the rest of the egg whites with the spatula. (A few streaks are okay).
7. Remove the soufflee dishes from the refrigerator. Load in the cheese mixture into each one, leaving about a quarter of an inch from the top.
8. Cut pieces of parchment paper or aluminum foil wide enough to wrap around and overlap the soufflee dishes, and fold them over. Tightly wrap them around the tops of the dishes, with most of the paper above the top of the dish. Tape it in place with masking tape.
9. Bake the soufflees in the preheated 375-degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until browned on top. Under no circumstances should you open the oven door for the first 15 minutes.
10. Get everyone at the table as the soufflees come out of the oven. Remove the paper collars, and serve them immediately in their dishes atop plates.This is especially good for lunch with a small salad of baby greens and vinaigrette on the side.
Spoonbread is to corn bread what bread pudding is to bread. It can be made sweet (for breakfast or a near-dessert) or savory (as a side dish). This one is in the latter category. The best way to bake this is in small baking dishes, about the size of custard cups. Individual gratin dishes also work well.
- 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup yellow or white cornmeal
- 1 ear very fresh corn
- 2 oz. tasso, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
- 1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
- 3 eggs, separated
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
1. Combine the half-and-half, butter, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Sprinkle in the cornmeal and cook, stirring, until the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat.
2. Cut the corn off the cob. Add the corn, tasso, and bell peppers and stir to mix. Let the mixture cool for about ten minutes.
3. Beat the egg yolks and stir them in until they disappear. With a whisk or electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. With a rubber spatula, fold the beaten egg whites into the mixture.
4. With the spatula, spoon about 3/4 cup of the mixture into small baking dishes. (You could also bake the entire batch in one dish, as long as the mixture is no more than an inch and a half deep.) Smooth the top of the mixture and put the baking dishes into the 300-degree oven.
5. Bake the spoonbread at 300 degrees for about 40 minutes. It should not get crusty except around the edges. The center should be set and firm, but not crumbly.
Serve with a spoon stuck into the spoonbread.
Serves four to six.
Gorgonzola Polenta. Wasn't he the conductor of a second-rate Italian orchestra in the 1920s? No, wait. That's not it. It's a side dish, and not just with Italian food. Polenta is the Italian answer to grits, made in every texture from runny to like a thick, wet cornbread. Although you can find polenta ready made, as well as cornmeal specifically made for polenta, regular yellow cornmeal works just fine.
The first time I encountered this variation on polenta was at the extinct Restaurant Jonathan on Rampart Street, when Chef Tom Cowman was in the kitchen. Incorporating the famous blue cheese into the polenta is a great idea, making the bland polenta suddenly zingy and delicious.
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 3 oz. by weight)
1. In a saucepan, bring three cups of water to a boil. Add 1 Tbs. butter, melt, and stir into the water. Lower the heat to medium low.
2. Sprinkle cornmeal in slowly, stirring as you do to prevent lumps from forming. Continue to stir until the polenta thickens, then pulls away from the side of the pan.
3. Stir in the Gorgonzola, until it blends into the polenta. Spoon the polenta into wide soup bowl. Smooth it down with a rubber spatula and allow to cool.
4. Turn the the bowl upside down onto a cutting board. Slice the polenta into six to eight pie-like slices.
5. Heat the remaining 2 Tbs. butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly brown the polenta slices on each side. Serve as a side dish with almost anything.
Serves six to eight.
Zea's Roasted Corn Grits
Even people who like grits didn't get excited about them until chefs starting playing around with them. One of the best versions of grits I ever had is corn-studded yellow grits they serve as a side dish at Zea. That's a small chain of specialty restaurants run by New Orleans chefs Gary Darling, Greg Reggio, and Hans Limberg. Their grits are so good that they outsell French fries at Zea--probably the only non-breakfast restaurant in the world where this is true. Use the best quality grits you can find--preferably stone-ground.
- 2 ears corn
- 1 Tbs. butter
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup yellow grits
- 1/2 tsp. salt
1. Grill the corn first. (This can be done in advance.) Shuck off the husks and butter the ears. Grill over an open fire (preferably charcoal) until the kernels are dark brown here and there.
2. Let the corn cool. Slice the kernels off the cob, holding the stem end down on a cutting board and slicing downward.
3. Bring the chicken broth to a light boil. Add the cream and return to a boil.
4. Slowly whisk in the grits and then the corn. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook five to six minutes.
6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Prickly Pear Cactus and Cranberry Jelly
I have a large pricklypear cactus growing outside my back door. Most years it produces large numbers of dark pruple-red fruits. I make these into either jelly or syrup, depending on whether it sets or not. This year, I turned my less bountiful harvest into a variation on cranberry sauce--the jellied kind. You need a juice extractor to do this. In my experience, it pulls all the spines out of the cactus--even the tiniest ones. But check to make sure.
- 24 or so ripe pricklypear cactus fruits
- 1 bag fresh cranberries.
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1 box pectin
- 3 cups sugar
1. Wash the pricklypears and the cranberries. Run them through a juice extractor, and save the juice. Run the pulp back through a second time, with the lemon juice. Blend the two batches of juice. You should have about two and a half to three cups of juice.
2. In a saucepan, dissolve the pectin into the juice and bring to a boil. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Return to a boil and cook for two more minutes. Remove from heat. Skim the foam.
3. After boiling new canning jars and lids in the usual way (see instructions that come with the jars), fill the jars with the juice mixture and screw the lids on tightly. Process the filled jars in boiling water for 15 minutes.
4. Remove the jars from the boiler and turn them upside-down for about five minutes. Turn them upright again and allow to cool for an hour. Check to make sure all the seals are good and the lids have curved inward.
Makes about six eight-ounce jars.
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