Green garlic has been around for some weeks now, and I'm sure to grab some each time I'm at the market. I try to O.D. on certain vegetables during their time so that I'm ready to move on when they are no longer available. Green garlic could easily be mistaken for leeks, but they often have a little blush of pink that gives them away. Green garlic is baby garlic that has not yet matured into individual cloves. You simply slice it as you would a leek. Actually green garlic reminds me of what a cross between garlic and leeks would be like. A delicate perfume of garlic with the sweetness of leeks.
Asparagus has finally arrived at the farmer's market as well, and I could not help grabbing a couple of bunches. If I had to pick a favorite vegetable, it just might be asparagus. It's like candy when it's grilled. A little charred and crispy on the outside with just enough snap left to keep it from being stringy. I could make a meal out of grilled asparagus, but today I wanted to treat it delicately by just bathing it in some cream brightened with a bit of meyer lemon juice.
Actually, the asparagus with meyer lemon cream was a bit of an afterthought. My original plan was centered entirely on a souffle scented with green garlic. But after tasting the souffle batter, sweet with a richness from Gruyere, I knew I needed to serve something with it to introduce a bit of brightness. A salad dressed in a lemony vinaigrette would have also worked, but I had 3 whole bunches of asparagus waiting to be used.
This souffle is actually quite easy and stress free as far as souffles go. It would be perfect to serve for a brunch or dinner party because it can be cooked ahead of time and reheated just before serving.
Green Garlic Souffle
(Adapted from The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook)
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk, slightly warmed
2 branches thyme
1 medium onion
1/2 pound green garlic, sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
3 eggs, separated
1 cup heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring to keep the flour from browning. Slowly pour in the milk, a little at a time, whisking each addition until smooth before adding more. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the thyme branches. Cook over very low heat for 20 minutes or so, until this bechamel sauce is medium-thick and lump free. Stir frequently to be sure it is not sticking. Cool to room temperature. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and set the bechamel aside.
Dice the onion and cook over medium heat in the remaining tablespoon of butter. When the onion becomes translucent, after about 5 minutes, add the sliced green garlic and 1 teaspoon salt and lower the heat. Add a little water to keep the vegetables from browning. Cook until the garlic is soft and the water nearly evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add more water during the cooking if necessary.
Cool the mixture and puree in a food processor or food mill. Stir the puree into the bechamel. Add the Gruyere and some freshly ground pepper, and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, the sauce should be fairly highly seasoned. Add the egg yolks, lightly beaten, and mix well again.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Generously butter six 8 ounce ramekins. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them into the souffle base. Fill the ramekins and place them in a deep baking dish. Pour hot water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the souffles are puffed and golden brown on the top. Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath. When the souffles have cooled a bit, unmold them by running a paring knife around the edge of each ramekin, invert the souffle into the palm of your hand, and place it in a shallow baking dish, top side up. The souffles can now be held at room temperature for a few hours.
While the souffles are cooking prepare the asparagus. Slice the asparagus on the bias. Place in a saute pan with 2/3 cup heavy cream and 1/4 teaspoon salt and simmer until the asparagus is cooked, about 5 minutes. Add some lemon juice t0 taste, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Correct for salt. Adding something acidic (vinegar, lemon juice) usually throws off the balance of salt, so it is important to taste and add a bit more salt or lemon juice to suit your taste.
When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 425F. Pour 1/3 cup of the cream over and around the souffles. Bake until the cream is hot and bubbling and the souffles are puffed up again, 6-8 minutes. Serve with the hot cream and spoon the asparagus around the souffle.