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Ramp and Mushroom Soufflés

It seems like folks are always searching for hassle-free implements for their very much hassled lives. Wrinkle-free clothes, dish detergent that also softens your hands, thermostats you can control away from home...

Many of these advances are great. I personally can't remember the last time I had to iron my clothes, even though I distinctly remember my mother spending at least one night of the week ironing my father's dress shirts. Some things have certainly changed for the better.

But when it comes to cooking, I'm not always a fan of the hassle-free. In fact, as a lover of cooking and food, I relish recipes that are labor-intensive. Not every day, mind you, but I find that a regular challenge in the kitchen keeps my cooking skills honed.

You see, there are certain facts of cooking--things that are inevitable and can seem scary, especially if you're committing to spend a long time in the kitchen. But with the right knowledge and tools you can stop worrying and learn to love the process.

Soufflés are a good for-instance. They're notoriously labor-intensive, and always seem to come with the admonition that you must serve them yesterday so they won't fall before they reach the table. I always picture an apron-clad housewife running with her steaming soufflé to a table of people who couldn't care less.

But the fact of the matter is that the soufflé will fall. That's sort of the point of soufflés and what makes them light and fluffy and desirable. They have a very tenuous structure due to the fact that they contain almost no flour and are composed primarily of eggs. The heat of the oven "sets" the eggs, creating just enough structure for the steam within the soufflé to cause the whole eggy mess to fluff up dramatically. And guess what? When that heat ceases to be applied (i.e. when you take it out of the oven), the soufflé deflates pretty rapidly. It's just a fact.

But soufflés are not difficult to make. Just keep your cool and take time to read the recipe through a few times. Have all your ingredients ready, and prepare the components ahead of time. For instance, for this recipe, which is a riff on one of JOY's soufflé recipes, you really need to make the white sauce and the sautéed mushrooms and ramps before you whip the egg whites. I've rewritten the recipe to reflect this, but in the original it's not so clear.

As I've already boxed up both my stand mixer and my handheld mixer for the move, I had to whip the egg whites by hand. The soufflés still came out great, in spite of my puny little arms. All I can say is that if I can do it, so can you.

Other articles you might enjoy: Sweet and Spicy Ramp Bacon, Spring Strata With Greens and Garlic Scapes, Fettuccine with Salmon and Asparagus

Ramp and Mushroom Souffleés
Serves 6 to 10

Note: If you cannot find ramps, feel free to substitute garlic chives, which have a very similar flavor, shallots, or even leeks. In any case, you'll want about 1/4 to 1/3 cup minced onion. For this batch, because most of my ramekins are packed up, I used a muffin tin and a 4-cup soufflé mold. I really loved how the muffin tin soufflés turned out, and this is especially nice because it means you could theoretically serve these at a party. They're basically a very dainty alternative to quiche bites.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter an 8-cup soufflé dish, six 8-ounce ramekins, or two standard muffin tins. Dust the insides with:
            1/4 to 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs or grated Parmesan
Shake out the excess.

Prepare the white sauce. Melt in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat:
            5 tablespoons butter
Whisk in until well blended and smooth, about 1 1/2 minutes:
            5 tablespoons all-purpose flour (use cornstarch to make this gluten-free)
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in:
            1 1/2 cups milk
Return the pan to heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Continue to cook, whisking, until the sauce is smooth and hot and has thickened, 2 to 5 minutes. Season with:
           3/4 teaspoon salt
            (1/8 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg or ground red pepper)
            Pinch of black pepper
Set aside and allow to cool slightly (you can make the white sauce ahead of time and use it cold).

Sauté the vegetables. Melt in a medium skillet over medium heat:
           2 tablespoons butter
Add and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes:
           Minced bulbs from 10 ramps (see note above if you can't find ramps)
Add and sauté until the mushrooms release their liquid and the liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes:
           8 ounces mushrooms (I used baby bellas, but you could use any mushroom here, including some of the more exotic ones such as morels, oysters, shiitakes, etc.)
Add and sauté very briefly, just until wilted, about 2 minutes:
           Minced ramp leaves from 10 ramps
Remove from the heat and set aside.

Combine in a medium bowl:
           6 large egg yolks
            3/4 cup grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese
Beat in a little of the white sauce, then combine the mixture with the rest of the sauce, beating vigorously to blend. Add the sautéed mushrooms and ramps.
Beat until stiff but not dry:
            6 large egg whites
            Pinch of salt
Stir one-quarter of the whites into the soufflé base to lighten it, then fold in the rest. Pour into the prepared soufflé dish, ramekins, or muffin tins. Bake until risen and golden brown on top, 40 to 45 minutes for a large soufflé, 20 to 25 minutes for individual soufflés. Serve immediately. Be warned that the soufflés will fall no matter what you do, but relax--they're still delicious.

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