Silverbeet and fetta soufflé

spinach souffle resized.JPG

If I had to choose one dish to have for dinner every night for the rest of my life, these spinach and fetta soufflés would quite possibly be it! Knowing the soufflé's reputation for being highly temperamental and near-on impossible to pull off, I was somewhat apprehensive the first time I attempted this recipe. However, years later I can happily report that I have made this recipe dozens of times and never once had it fail. The recipe has developed from the spinach soufflé recipe in Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian Cooking by Irma Rombauer et al.

The one occasion that springs to mind of when things did not quite go according to plan was when I was visiting my sister and cooked these soufflés for dinner. She didn't have any ramekins so I instead made them in oven-safe coffee mugs, and with the different shape I somewhat misjudged their capacity... half an hour later lil' sis had something of a mess in the bottom of her oven, but honestly the soufflé left in the coffee mugs (which, to be fair, was most of it) tasted as good as always. As a pointer though, my ramekins have a capacity of 350ml, measuring about 9cm in diameter and 6cm high.

I'd suggest preparing any sides you're planning on having with your soufflé, which take more than 15 minutes to make, in advance. While I think the difficulty of making soufflés is often exaggerated, the phrase "you can wait for soufflé, but soufflé wont wait for you" is quite true. 

When making this for just the two of us, I'll usually prepare the béchamel for four (as below) and cook an entire bunch of silverbeet,  then store half of each in the fridge to make souffés again the following night.

For those of you in Canberra: my secret ingredient is the Small Cow Farm fetta, available from the Farmers' Market at EPIC; hands down the best fetta I've tasted.

Serves 4

  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • Béchamel sauce (see below)
  • 100 g fetta cheese
  • 1 large bunch silverbeet
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • ground nutmeg

Béchamel sauce:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour*

*I use the brown rice gluten-free flour mix suggested in Gluten-Free Baking Classics, by Annalise Roberts: 6 parts brown rice flour : 2 parts potato starch : 1 part tapioca starch.

Preheat oven to 200˚C (390 F). Prepare the ramekins: Cut the 1 teaspoon of butter into four pieces and place one in each ramekin. Microwave for 30 seconds, or until the butter is melted. Brush the butter over the base and up the sides of the ramekins so that they are well coated. Place about 1 tablespoon grated parmesan in each ramekin, and roll around so the base and sides are also coated with the parmesan. Set aside.

Make the béchamel:

Place the garlic under the flat of a knife blade and press down to crush slightly. You want to keep it in one or two pieces (not put through a garlic crusher to mince), but breaking it up a bit will help the flavour leach into the milk more readily. Place the milk in a saucepan along with the garlic, cloves and bay leaf. Bring to a gentle simmer over a low heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the milk as it's heating; if it starts to boil too vigorously you will very quickly have more milk on the stovetop than in the saucepan.

Meanwhile, combine the butter and flour in a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat, stirring. Once the butter has melted, continue to cook for a few minutes or until the roux is fragrant, then remove from the heat.

Remove the garlic, cloves and bay leaf from the milk. Gradually stir the milk into the roux. Adding a few tablespoons of milk at a time and combining before adding more will help prevent lumps from forming. If the sauce does become lumpy, don't bother starting again. Lumpy béchamel wont be very nice poured over vegetables, but it's unlikely to affect the texture of the soufflé.

When all the milk has been combined, return the sauce to the stove. Cook over a low heat, stirring continuously (lumps will form very quickly if you stop), until thickened. You want the sauce to be thick enough that it can't be easily poured, but not so dry that it looses its 'smoothness'. If the sauce is really runny and not thickening, add a little extra flour. If the sauce thickens/drys out too much (someone called me with an SOS describing their sauce as "like mashed potato") stir in some more milk.

Once you've got the consistency of the sauce about right, stir in a pinch each of salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Adjust seasoning to taste.

The béchamel sauce can be made up to a day ahead and stored in the fridge. I find it generally doesn't last more than two days before spoiling.

To complete the soufflés:

Whisk the egg yolks and stir in the béchamel, remaining parmesan, a pinch of nutmeg and a couple of pinches of salt and pepper. Crumble in the fetta.

Prepare the silverbeet: Remove the stems and rinse. Cook in a large pot of boiling water for a few minutes until wilted. Drain, run under cold water (to cool enough to handle), and drain again. Squeeze tightly to remove the excess liquid. Finely dice, and stir into the soufflé mixture.

To the egg whites, add a pinch of salt. 'Pure' egg whites will form a better foam when beaten, but adding some salt helps stabilise the foam, so the idea is to add just a little salt as a stabiliser, without compromising too much on the volume of the foam. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Spoon about a third of the egg whites into the béchamel mixture and stir until just combined. This lightens the mixture before combining the remaining egg whites. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites, again until just combined.

Pour soufflé mix into prepared ramekins and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown. (Check the soufflés after 20 minutes, exact cooking time will depend on your oven). Serve immediately.