This week I have

made a mushroom souffle. It’s one of the things I make when there is little in the house. There were good mushrooms, and excellent eggs (I prefer Willowzen, for reasons later), along with the usual butter, flour and milk, and a little parmesan. So what can be made? Not much – a mushroom omelette, perhaps, but that’s my version of fast food.

A mushroom souffle is not fast, and it has the disadvantage that you need two saucepans, a frying pan, and two bowls to wash up. But it has a certain glamour, and makes a “There’s not much in the house. Should we go out?” evening into a good reason to stay home. Particularly if there is something for a salad (even a couple of tomatoes will do) and you add a good bottle of pinot noir, or chardonnay.

What follows is my preferred recipe. Variations will follow.

You will need (for two, but it can stretch to three): 200 ml milk, a bayleaf, a clove of garlic, a couple of slices of dried mushroom; 3 large swiss brown or flat mushrooms (a good cup, when finely chopped); 45g butter; two level tablespoons of flour, three eggs, a tablespoon of grated parmesan, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Butter a souffle or straight sided ovenproof dish.

Start by heating the milk with the bayleaf, a small peeled clove of garlic, and two slices of dried mushroom. Bring just to the boil and allow to infuse for at least five minutes. Fish out the bayleaf, garlic and mushrooms. Chop the mushrooms slices very finely.

Chop the fresh mushrooms very finely, and cook them in a frying pan in 15g of butter until they have softened and reduced.

Separate the eggs.

Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan, and when it is foaming, add the flour. Stir well over a low heat until the flour is fully incorporated (it only takes a few seconds). Then add the warm milk, and stir well over a lowish heat until the mixture thickens and is smooth. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Turn off the heat. Add all the chopped mushrooms and stir. Add the cheese, and stir it in. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, stirring well after each addition.

Beat the egg whites until they are stiff, then fold them in carefully, a third at a time.

Pour into the buttered dish, and bake in a hot oven (200C) for about 15 minutes.

The souffle will have risen. If the timing is right (and it’s always tricky to be exact because every oven is different), the inside will remain slightly creamy. If it is too runny, quickly and quietly put the soufle back in the oven for three minutes. Even if it is not creamy, the souffle is delicious. Light to eat, and comforting, with enough pizzazz to be pleasing.

Variations: You can leave out the initial stage of infusing the milk, but that step does make a surprising difference to the flavour. You could use half a cup of finely chopped spinach instead of the mushrooms. You could use two tablespoons of grated parmesan and 50 g of gruyere or good cheddar for a cheese souffle.

You can also bake this in individual dishes, and it will serve four. Do not fill the dishes more than half way, and make sure people are sitting at the table when the souffle is served. The timing will be much shorter – about eight minutes. Judge by how much the souffle has puffed up.

Why WIllowzen eggs? I visited the Slades and saw how their hens are treated. These are real free range eggs, in a way that protects the soil, too. The hens are moved into a new paddock every week to 10 days. That way, the chicken manure never overloads the soil. That way, they are always in fresh grass, and they have enough space to move about freely. All the hens looked wonderfully healthy, not one of them pecked or bullied by the others. There are trailers in which they sleep and lay their eggs, and they are protected by electrified fences and maremma dogs. The eggs have a rich, deep flavour, almost savoury. http://www.willowzen.com.au

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