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It sounds like a crazy wedding dance, but Funky Ophelia is what I’m calling the cheese soufflé we’ll share for today’s side dish course of the Southern Summer Nights Virtual Dinner Party. I’m glad you came by! If you’re new to these parts, I hope you’ll subscribe (see right column), follow me on Twitter and “like” the blog page on Facebook.
The cheese we’re using today, called Ophelia, is by Kent Walker Artisan Cheese (see previous post). It’s a really funky washed-rind variation of feta. Reaaaally funky. In fact, I wondered how it was going to go up until the last minute and first bite. In case you’re wondering, the final flavor is amazing, mellowed by the magic of béchamel and egg whites. Kent, you were right; the Ophelia nailed it.
I was going to use a more traditional Maytag blue, but I decided to find an Arkansas product instead. The result, I hope, celebrates the often surprising culinary wealth that our state provides. Pull up a chair and dive in!
Want to make some of your own when you get back home? Just pick up some Ophelia (or his white cheddar, if you’re scurred) at one of Kent’s retail partners, or at his own upcoming retail location, and follow along.
First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare the coating for four small ramekins. I had a mishmash collection of different ramekins, including some squatty brûlée ones, which turned out to be my favorite.
Being gluten-free and all, I chose finely ground walnuts as the base rather than bread crumbs (about a 1/2 cup), adding a couple tablespoons of parmesan and a dash or two of cayenne for added flavor. And of course, I used my Microplane grater to create those snowy wisps of fresh parm. Brush the inside of each ramekin with melted butter, and place a handful of the mixture inside. Turn the ramekin until it’s well coated, then pour out the excess into the next buttered ramekin. Wipe any excess from the rim.
I put a handful of whole walnuts on a sheet pan in the oven to toast while working on the next step. Miraculously, I didn’t burn them. I think it’s a first. Remove them from the oven when just fragrant, about six minutes, and hold them for the garnish.
Next, I poached some pear slices for the garnish. Peel one Bosc pear and cut it into slices, being sure to trim out any tough core or seeds. In a small saucepan, cover the pear slices with about a cup of apple juice, a tablespoon of honey, a splash of lemon juice and a few whole peppercorns. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, letting the pear soften while you work on the soufflé.
Know how to make a béchamel? Because that’s next. It’s the base of many great dishes, from soups to macaroni and cheese. For this, just heat three tablespoons of butter (the real thing, please) and three tablespoons of flour, my gluten-free blend in this case, in a medium pot over moderate heat. Whisk a couple minutes until it becomes a solid paste, cooked through but not browned. All at once, add a cup of whole milk (or in my emergency case, heavy cream…I worried, but it worked) and whisk like crazy. Add more if it’s really thick.
Whisk in about two ounces of the Ophelia, crumbled finely (or shredded cheddar, if you chickened out), until it’s mostly melted. A few lumps are okay. Remove from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste; it can take a good amount of salt, but taste as you go. Grate in a bit of fresh nutmeg, again with a Microplane.
Wait, what? You’ve never grated fresh nutmeg? It’s pretty much life-changing. Microplane even makes a special little grater that’s perfect for it. I have one…somewhere. For now, this.
Separate the yolks and whites of four eggs, putting the yolks in a small bowl and the whites in the work bowl of your stand mixer or in a large bowl for an electric mixer. Be sure the bowl is clean, as the whites may not firm up otherwise. I used eggs from my niece’s yard chickens. You wouldn’t believe the difference. If you have access to free-range chickens, whether from family or the farmers’ market, it will give this recipe a richer flavor (the yolks) and greater height (the whites).
Put a bit of the warm sauce (now technically a Mornay) into the yolks, whisk them like crazy, then whisk them back into the pot of sauce. This process is called tempering, keeping the yolks from scrambling when they hit the sauce.
Using a stand or electric mixer, whip the egg whites until they are very stiff. If you like, you can add a dash of cream of tartar before whipping to make the end product more stable. When done, take a good spoonful of the whipped whites and stir them thoroughly into the sauce. Here, it’s okay to deflate them. The rest of the whites, not so much.
Here’s where you have to be very careful not to stir, but to fold. Plop the remaining egg whites on top of the sauce, and using a rubber spatula, carefully turn the sauce up and over the whites again and again. Get it mostly combined, but don’t overdo it — the more you mix, the less it will rise. A few white clumps are totally okay.
At this point, you better have your ducks in a row. (And of course, this is where World War III broke out between the kids. I had to let it go.) Oven ready. Prepared ramekins on a sheet pan ready.
Fill the ramekins. Load the oven. Hold your breath.
Now really, I’m making it sound difficult, and it’s really not. But soufflés are known to be persnickety, and they’re gonna fall pretty soon after coming out of the oven no matter what. Don’t tempt fate by slamming the oven door or doing cardio in the kitchen.
While the soufflés bake, prepare your garnish. Remove the pears from the liquid, discard the peppercorns, then turn up the heat to reduce the liquid to a syrup. Pour this back over the pears. Garnish your presentation plate with the pears and toasted walnuts, hitting them with a bit of cracked pepper if you wish. If you’re really feeling industrious, chiffonade some basil or mint (remarkably, either one works).
The instant the soufflés are done (about 15 minutes for a standard ramekin, slightly browned and not wet looking in the middle), remove one VERY carefully without touching the soufflé and place it on your presentation plate. I used a combination of metal and rubber spatulas, one to scoot under and one to grab. Quickly garnish with honey and basil or mint.
Serve immediately to your amazed guests.
Excuse me, but I’m gonna take a nap now. Y’all can see yourselves out, right?
You know I was kidding about seeing yourself out, right? You just can’t go until you get yourself a chance for a prize.
Please click here to enter our drawing for a HUGE prize pack including $85 of product from Microplane and a $75 all-Arkansas gift basket from Argenta Market! Like I’ve said before, I adore both of these companies (in fact, I’ve wanted to do a giveaway with Microplane for ages!) and would say so whether or not they let us give stuff away. All opinions are my own.
Remember, visit each #VirtualDinnerParty blogger on her highlighted day for more chances to enter.