The soufflé has always been a bit of a mystery to me. There is something very 1970s about it, like Charles Aznavour singing and Brigitte Bardot bathing topless on the French Riviera. I fear this is linked to the fact that my sister dated a French man called Jean-Pierre in the 1970s when I was in primary school. He wore matching blue denim jacket and flares, smoked Gauloises, drove a Renault, took and developed his own photos and introduced my sister to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells as well as to French food. I thought he was pretty cool though I admit to being a bit scared of him. He seemed so very “with it”. From that time forward my sister loved all things French and so did her new (not French) husband. They took the family to a fancy Melbourne restaurant run by the late George Mora called Balzac, where I ate French onion soup (I loved those little Gruyere covered toasts floating in it) and soufflé. It all seemed very chic and grown up. I was particularly in awe of the soufflé, so puffy and light, with that melt in your mouth texture.
Fast forward several decades and I still had not tried to make a soufflé even though I often thought back to that meal at Balzac. I still had not attempted the onion soup or the soufflé. I had looked at soufflé recipes, thought about it, and then dismissed it as being a bit tricky and a little bit too French to match my simple italian cooking. An opportunity presented itself quite unexpectedly when I was at the Agrarian Kitchen in Tasmania in December last year.
The menu at the Agrarian Experience (daily foraging cooking classes) had a twice cooked soufflé with rainbow chard as the entree – and I happily volunteered to make it. Serving the soufflés on a bed of chard, with lots of melted Gruyere cheese and a dash of cream seemed a little bit Italian, not too sophisticated and a little different from regular soufflés. And it was a great opportunity to be taught by Rodney Dunn, who had originally created a number of twice-cooked soufflé recipes when he worked at Gourmet Traveller magazine.
Under Rodney’s guidance it was actually pretty easy to make – it seemed to be all about timing. It was not quite as awe-inspiring as my 13 year old memory of that meal at Balzac – but it was certainly delicious. Placing it on a bed of finely chopped leaves and stems of chard gave it all the colours of the rainbow and was a lovely contrast to the cheesy airy soufflé. I hope you will enjoy the recipe below (which is adapted from the one Rodney gave us) – it might be a bit French but has the sweetest food memories for me.
twice baked souffle with rainbow chard
Bunch rainbow (or swiss chard), stems and leaves finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
olive oil for cooking
30 g butter, coarsely chopped, plus extra for greasing
30 g plain flour
350 ml milk
2 eggs, separated
80 ml (1/3 cup) pouring cream
60 g Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated
Heat a glug of olive oil in a large fry-pan on medium heat, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the finely chopped chard and cook on medium-low heat (10 minutes) until cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste and divide the cooked chard evenly between four oven-safe serving dishes and set aside.
Preheat oven to 200C. Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stir in flour and cook, stirring continuously, until mixture comes away from sides of pan (2-3 minutes). Remove from heat, set aside to cool.
Bring milk to the boil in a separate pan, then whisk into cooled flour mixture until smooth, return pan to heat and stir continuously until mixture comes to the boil, then cook, stirring continuously, until thick (2-3 minutes). Remove from heat, stir in yolks, season to taste, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to cool.
Whisk eggwhite until soft peaks form, then whisk one-third into cooled milk mixture. Fold in leftover eggwhite with a metal spoon. Divide among four buttered 250ml-capacity metal dariole moulds, bake until golden (5-7 minutes). Turn soufflés onto prepared dishes of chard, scatter with cheese, pour on the cream, bake until golden (8-10 minutes), serve immediately.