The thing about busy lives lived in cities is… Well, there’s many things I could say about that, but for me, the biggest loss is that of the seasons. They seem somewhat hollow, like diluted versions of what you might experience if you were surrounded by green spaces. I try and get out and immerse myself in woods and fields as much as I can, but that turns out to happen much less than it should. And so I find myself cultivating something of the seasons internally, trying to grasp what I can of a rural landscape from books and tv, and trying to get something of the multisensory experience of autumn from the cooking-and-eating-and-everything-inbetween process: If I can’t pluck ripe figs from a bush, I most certainly can spend too much time standing over a crate of them, gently squeezing their plump curves to see if they yield, in anticipation of tearing them apart later and enjoying their sweet flesh. And so on…
I rarely buy cookery books, but recently I picked up a copy of Diana Henry’s Roast Figs Sugar Snow, a celebration of the colder months if I ever saw one. And we’ve been having a bit of a River Cottage revival, watching old episodes online every now and then and firing our imaginations with autumn ideas. We turned to an old charity shop find that I’ve never really looked through until this past week – The River Cottage Cookbook, and when B started to make happy noises looking at a soufflé recipe I thought, why not? I’ve never made one before, although I’ve always wanted to. The recipe looked simple enough, and we had a gleaming courgette fit for purpose. We ended up adjusting Hugh FWs recipe but only slightly, using half of the ingredients asked for as there was just the two of us, and throwing in some chilli flakes and fresh oregano, which were excellent additions, if I do say so myself!
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
250g courgettes, sliced finely
25g butter, plus a little extra for greasing the ramekins
25g plain flour
25g cheddar, grated
1 tbsp. fresh oregano
1 tsp. chilli flakes
Salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Butter your soufflé dishes, then separate the eggs. You only need one and a half egg yolks, so discard a spoonful. Set aside.
In a frying pan, heat the oil, and fry the courgettes over a medium heat. Stir often so that they don’t brown, but cook through – you want them to soften and lose their liquid. For me, this took about twenty minutes. Add the garlic about halfway through the cooking process. When done, mash together to get a rough purée. Season well, then set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, heat the milk. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour, stir together, and cook for about a minute. Add the hot milk little by little, stirring so that it doesn’t become lumpy (this took some vigorous stirring for us!) The béchamel will thicken as you stir. Once all the milk is added, allow it to bubble gently for one minute, then stir, remove from the heat, and season with salt, pepper, chilli flakes and herbs.
Put the courgette pulp into a mixing bowl, then pour over the béchamel and add the egg yolks and cheese and plenty of black pepper. Beat together until well combined.
In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff (but do take care not to over whisk.) Add a spoonful of the whites to the courgette mixture to loosen it up, then gently fold in the remainder. Spoon into your ramekins, then bake in the middle of the oven for 12-15 minutes (ours were perfectly done after twelve.) Serve immediately, before they start to loose their oomph!