Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Winter Whites: Parsnip Souffle

As much as I look forward to finding my new cooking magazines in the mailbox, I must admit that I’ve been facing the coming of the March issues with a bit of dread. It’s been a long, cold, snowy winter here in southeastern Minnesota, and there’s more to come, I’m sure. I couldn’t stand the thought of facing a magazine cover produced by perky people who think it’s spring and that we should be planning meals with green things like fancy lettuces, asparagus and peas. Those foods will have to be shipped here from someplace green like the Emerald City, taking quality damage along the way, for a few more months.

The March issue of Bon Appetit magazine, however, was kind to me in my time of distress. Its cover recipe was a beautiful crock of macaroni and cheese. Thank you for recognizing that it’s still cold outside, Bon Appetit. Now I can make something hearty and comforting in the oven, using my well-stored winter vegetables, and still be chic and en vogue and not at all passe. I have permission, at the end of February, to make the parsnip soufflé I’ve been thinking about for months (and then had to further delay because my souffle dish was buried at the bottom of the freezer full of spaghetti sauce that I couldn't remember making.)

As I described in detail in this post from last spring, I got my soufflé confidence from Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food. I applied the basic soufflé theory of a flavorful base lightened with beaten egg whites, but instead of a béchamel sauce in the base, I took a cue from a casserole recipe (Tortellini Gratinata with Mushrooms and Parship “Bechemel”) from that same Bon Appetit issue, and made a parsnip “béchamel” of my own with pureed parsnips and garlic mixed with milk and flavored with black pepper and nutmeg. I added even more flavor to the base with shredded Gruyere cheese and enriched it with a couple of egg yolks.

The resulting soufflé was delicious, subtly sweet from the parsnips and salty, tangy and nutty from the Gruyere. Since none of the ingredients are overwhelming in flavor, the black pepper and nutmeg were pleasantly perceivable as well, lending a bit of a spicy note to the otherwise mild and gentle dish. The texture was nice and puffy, at least for the few minutes immediately after I took the soufflé out of the oven, but it was just a bit watery around the edges of a served scoopful. This might have been because the parsnip “béchamel” was not quite as stable as a roux-thickened white sauce would be, or I could have over-baked it. Heck, I don’t know. This is only the second soufflé I’ve ever made, and my trouble-shooting skills are a bit weak in this area.

Of course, a hot, puffy soufflé is an elusive thing as it tends to collapse so quickly. I don’t mind so much, and even ate reheated leftovers. The texture of a collapsed soufflé is still fluffier than an omelet or frittata, and all of the great flavor stays where it always was. It’s all worth the little bit of extra effort it takes to make a fancier winter dish, and I really like this new (to me) way of embracing the humble winter parsnips I get from the CSA. Since the white and the winter will be around for a while, I might as well match them and be in style.

Parsnip Souffle with Gruyere

6 ounces parsnips, trimmed, peeled and sliced
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for cooking parsnips
1 cup milk, divided
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3 ounces grated Gruyere or other sharp-tasting cheese
4 egg whites at room temperature
Butter or cooking spray for the soufflé dish

1. Place the parsnips and garlic in a medium-size saucepan. Add a small handful of coarse salt and cover with cold water by a few inches. Bring to a boil and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool slightly. (The parsnips and garlic can be cooked a day or two ahead and refrigerated until ready to use.)

2. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 1 -1 ½ quart (about1-1.5 liter) soufflé dish, or spray it with cooking spray. Set aside.

3. Place the cooked parsnips and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Add ½ cup milk and ½ teaspoon salt. Process to a smooth puree. Pour the parsnip puree in a large bowl. Whisk in the remaining ½ cup milk, black pepper and nutmeg. Whisk in the egg yolks. Stir in the Gruyere cheese.

4. Place the egg whites in the very clean bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer or a very clean large bowl. Beat the eggs on medium speed using the whisk attachment of the stand mixer or with a hand mixer until frothy. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form.

5. Spoon about ¼ of the beaten egg whites into the parsnip. Gently mix together, preferably with a rubber spatula or a wide, flat spoon. Fold in the remaining egg whites, about half at a time. To do this, cut down through the whites with the edge of the spatula and turn it to bring some of the base up over the whites. Gently stir this way until the whites are incorporated with the base, leaving a puffy mixture. Try not to deflate the egg whites.

6. Spoon the mixture into the buttered soufflé dish. Bake at 375 F for 35 minutes or until the soufflé has puffed up significantly, but is still a bit wobbly if very gently shaken, and the top is golden brown. Serve immediately.

Makes about 4 servings. Leftovers are still good reheated, but will not have the same airy texture.

Other recipes like this one: Spinach and Feta Souffle, Cream of Carrot and Parsnip Soup

One year ago: Chickpea Stew with Dried Apricots

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