Thanks to our three layer hens, some kind of savory soufflé is always in the dinner rotation at our house. The basic formula is the same, so it’s easy to add in whatever you happen to have on hand for a quick weeknight meal. (Contrary to popular belief, soufflés are not at all hard to make…so long as you’re sober and paying careful attention to what you’re doing. I did not in any way learn this from personal experience, no siree. Nothing to see here.)
This formula is for basic Parmesan cheese, which we almost always can find on sale somewhere and is flavorful enough to stand on its own. We’ve also used mozzarella and thrown in some basil and chopped tomato—the combinations are limitless, but if you’re using a mild-flavored cheese it’s probably wise to throw in something complementary like a handful of herbs, sauteed vegetables, or some caramelized onions.
When it’s just the two of us, we make one big soufflé in a 1-quart ramekin and serve it sliced on a plate with salad from the garden, dressed simply with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When we have company, we serve them in individual 1-cup ramekins—this particular recipe fills about 5 or 6 of them.
Smear of butter to grease the ramekin: 10 cents.
Bread crumbs to coat inside of ramekin, made from stale homemade bread and stored in freezer: $0.
3 T butter for the roux: 18 cents.
3 T all-purpose flour (@ 69 cents a pound) for the roux: 4 cents.
1 cup whole milk: 50 cents.
1 tsp Dijon mustard: 4 cents.
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce: 5 cents.
1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce: 3 cents.
kosher salt to taste: 1 cent.
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces from a 4-ounce triangle that cost $2): $1. (Feel free to substitute any cheese you already have on hand, if that’s cheaper.)
5 eggs: $0.
Pinch of cream of tartar: 1 cent.
TOTAL: $1.96/2 = 98 cents per serving.
Rub the inside of the ramekin with butter and coat with bread crumbs so the soufflé doesn’t stick to the sides and can rise properly.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Melt 3 T butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the foaming subsides, add the flour and stir constantly until lightly golden. Add the milk slowly, stirring the whole time, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Add the Dijon, worcestershire and Tabasco, stir well and salt to taste. Add all but a couple tablespoons of the cheese and stir until melted, remove from heat. The base should be cohesive but still thin enough to fall off the spoon. If it’s too thick, thin it with more milk. (At this point you can refrigerate the base for a few hours if you need to and warm it back up when you need it.)
Separate the five egg whites into one bowl and add four of the yolks to the cheese base (discard the fifth yolk). There cannot be ANY yolks in the whites—not even a microscopic dot—or else the whites won’t fluff up when beaten. Believe me, I’ve tried to get away with even the tiniest speck you can imagine, and it didn’t work.
Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the whites (it helps stabilize the foam) and beat with either a handheld mixer or in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until glossy and forming stiff peaks.
Using a rubber spatula, scrape about 1/4 of the whites out of the bowl and into the base to lighten it (be gentle; it’s better to have some white streaks than burst all the egg-white bubbles), then pour the lightened base into the empty spot in the bowl where you took out the whites. Fold the base into the whites gently with a rubber spatula until almost totally incorporated. The mixture should be foamy and fluffly. If not the soufflé will still be edible, it just won’t rise and will probably be wet in the middle. Pour into the prepared ramekin, sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
Bake on the middle rack until the top is golden brown, about 25 minutes depending on your oven. Slice in half, scoop it out, and serve immediately.
Voilà! Dinner for the price of a pack of gum.