I have been madly in love with Jacques Pepin’s mother, and more importantly with her reckless ingenuity, ever since I read The Apprentice. I immediately knew I’d have to try her every-known-rule-breaking cheese souffle, and it was everything I had hoped and more. I have made all kinds of variations on it since, and it has become a favorite dinner with a simple salad. Naturally, it’s a perfect brunch dish as well.
It’s flatter than a traditional souffle and just a smidge heavier, somewhere between a traditional souffle and a frittata, but it’s so beautifully, perfectly eyes-closed easy and no-compromises delicious that nothing whatsoever is lost. For all its luxuriousness, it’s also quite a recession-friendly dish, since eggs are cheap and while it’s amazing with imported Gruyere, it’s also great with less exalted domestic cheeses.
It’s the most sublime way of using up all kinds of leftovers, too. Previous incarnations have included pepper jack with green onion, and aged gouda with cremini mushrooms sauteed in Marsala.
Cheese and Asparagus Souffle
(adapted from Maman’s Cheese Souffle, in Jacques Pepin’s The Apprentice)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
7 large eggs, well beaten
2 1/2 cups (approximately 6 ounces) grated cheese, preferably Gruyere
1 bunch fresh asparagus, roasted or steamed
Butter a 6-cup gratin dish and set aside.
In a saucepan, melt the 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat, then add flour and whisk over the heat until fully absorbed and starting to simmer. Whisk in the milk, and continue stirring until the sauce is thick and smooth and comes to a boil, 1-2 minutes.
Pour into a large bowl and allow to cool for 10 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400F.
When the sauce has cooled, fold in the eggs and cheese. Slice the lower stalks of the asparagus thinly and stir into the egg mixture, reserving the tips for garnish.
Pour the mixture into the buttered dish and bake until puffy and well browned on top, 30-40 minutes. Serve immediately, garnished with the reserved asparagus tips and accompanied by a simply dressed green salad.
The deflated leftovers are delicious cold or reheated the next day.
The original recipe called for five extra-large eggs, but the time I mistakenly made it with an extra egg, I preferred the additional lightness. Since I have to make a special point of buying extra-large but always have large on hand, I’ve scaled the recipe for the equivalent of six extra-large eggs.
I had milder Madrigal instead of Gruyere on hand, so I substituted Parmesan for the last half-cup to add sharpness. Do the same if you’re using standard American swiss or cheddar.