Mom’s Cheese and Spinach Soufflé
I have a very personal attachment to this soufflé. The recipe comes from my mother, who told me that when she was a young bride, she wanted to make a soufflé for my father, who loved them, but she didn’t know how. A friend told her that a cheese soufflé was composed of a béchamel (white sauce), which she knew how to make, grated cheese, and eggs. So she proceeded to make one with these ingredients, not knowing that in a classic soufflé the eggs are separated—the yolks mixed into the white sauce first and the beaten whites folded in later. So she beat the whole eggs into the béchamel and was so happy with the result that she made her soufflés in this manner ever afterward!
This kind of soufflé has many advantages, the most important being that you can prepare the base mixture up to a day ahead, so there is no hectic last-minute preparation involved. Although it takes a little longer to cook than a standard soufflé and has a slightly less airy texture, it rises beautifully, browns well, and is delicious. The soufflé is made in a gratin dish rather than a soufflé mold so that it cooks faster, is crustier, and is easier to divide into portions. – Jacques Pépin
3 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1⁄4 cups cold milk
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1⁄8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups baby spinach leaves
11⁄2 cups grated Gruyère or Beaufort cheese (about 4 ounces)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley or basil
1. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the flour and stir with a whisk until well combined and sizzling, then whisk in the cold milk and bring to a boil, stirring and mixing with the whisk so the mixture doesn’t stick as it thickens. Boil for about 20 seconds, mixing continuously with the whisk. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and remove the pan from the heat.
2. Use the 1 remaining teaspoon butter to grease the bottom of a 3- to 4-cup oval gratin dish. Place the spinach in a bowl and microwave for 2 minutes, or until wilted.
3. By now, the white sauce should have cooled a little. Add the spinach and cheese to it and mix with the whisk. Add the eggs and parsley and mix well. Pour the
mixture into the prepared gratin dish. This step can be done a couple of hours ahead and the dish kept in the refrigerator
until cooking time.
4. When you are ready to cook the soufflé, preheat the oven to 400°. Place the gratin dish on a cookie sheet lined with nonstick aluminum foil for easy cleanup and bake for approximately 40 minutes, until well-puffed and brown. Serve immediately.
TIP: This is the ideal soufflé to assemble ahead and cook at the last moment.