Brunch: Mini Asparagus Cheese Soufflés

To me, the idea of brunch never really made sense. Why combine two meals instead of waking up to a new day through eating breakfast and the midday caesura of lunch? In high school, in college, and onward, my friends and I met for coffee, or drinks, or one of the standard meals, but never for brunch. Even after pulling all-nighters studying, eating at noon meant sitting down to breakfast.

Brunch is certainly a secret shared between adults. Along with the handshake and password required to be part of the throng of brunch acolytes, it requires special rules for restaurants. They reserve tailored offerings spelled out in a brunch menu stashed in the back of the house of the restaurant the remaining six days of the week and thus make a name for themselves among those in the know.

But I’m starting to understand the rules.

The idea of brunch lets the morning unfold slowly—leisurely, even. Perhaps this borrowed time meant for a separate meal makes that time all the more indulgent: reading a book in bed, going for a morning jog after the sun has come up, pulling on clothes to head out for coffee. Additionally, the meal itself tends to be rather indulgent. Somehow the notion of brunch says, “Go ahead and order the oatmeal pancakes with fresh peach compote or the potato scramble with seasonal vegetables and a hearty grating of cheese oozing from its nooks and crannies. You’ve been so good all week long.”

Brunch gives us permission to revel in the small moments.

Friendships cultivated by weekday texts or emails give way for actual weekend face time and catching up over brunch. Whether it’s learning a friend is optimizing her profile to dive into online dating, or thinking about a career change still a ways off, the time spent at this dual meal gives way for talking about the things that matter and somehow, like those special one day menus, get shelved the rest of the week.

To bask in the time spent with people you love—this is the nature of a good brunch.

It can involve setting off to a part of town you rarely frequent in order to try out a new restaurant and play the part of the explorer. This meal sets the tone for “taking things as they come,” and figuring it all out as you go along your way.

Come to think of it, we need more brunch.

When did it become commonplace to spend time together with close friends only every few months? When did work begin edging its way into times and days that do not belong to it? How did we find ourselves going online for community and foregoing actual, real life community? There is a time for everything under the sun…and this should include brunch.

Bringing home the indulgence and casual ease of a brunch get-together entails something a bit more special than a lunch invitation. Brunch encourages scooting off to the local patisserie on a morning jog to snatch still-warm almond croissants. It delights in the sound of the coffee pot bubbling as the steam of pungent aroma wafts into each room of the house. It suggests selecting a bouquet of flowers to cheer your table. As you put together a simple menu with the help of the local patisserie, freshly cut fruit from your grocery store and locally roasted coffee beans, consider adding space on your plate for Mini Asparagus Cheese Soufflés. When I am planning a brunch with friends, they can count on comfort foods and this eggy dish certainly ups the ante from crusty quiche.

All the pomp and circumstance you’ve heard about soufflés somehow submits to the rules of brunch in this recipe. Instead of the poufy dome of soufflé rising from the edges of porcelain, these mini soufflés are encircled by cupcake paper baking cups. Their pale green color belies the richness of flavor brought to its fullness when asparagus mingles with cheese and leeks. Each bite slows you down, invites you to listen and then talk, as your mouth stays busy savoring by the spoonful. I can’t think of a better way to approach life than that.

Mini Asparagus Cheese Soufflés
YIELDS: 8 servings
SERVING SIZE: 2 mini soufflés per person

• 1/2 cup leeks, sliced
• 4 cups water
• 1 pound asparagus
• 1 tablespoon grape seed oil (or other neutral oil)
• 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 1 cup plain kefir
• 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
• 3 egg yolks
• 4 egg whites
• 8 ounces Port Salut cheese (French)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Steam asparagus in water at a rolling boil until bright green, about 3 minutes.

3. Sauté leeks in oil and butter over medium low heat until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

4. Drain asparagus. Chop up into three sections per stalk. Set aside.

5. Chop up the Port Salut cheese. Set aside.

6. Slowly, stir in the flour and nutmeg with the leeks. Once integrated, stir in the kefir slowly until completely blended.

7. Move leek roux to a medium sized bowl and whisk in the cheese. Whisk for a few minutes and then whisk in the yolks. The cheese will not be completely integrated into the mixture and that’s okay.

8. In a blender, add half of the leek cheese mixture and half of the chopped asparagus. Purée until smooth. Then pour into a large bowl. Add the rest of the leek cheese mixture and asparagus segments and puree until smooth. Then pour the pureed asparagus cheese mixture into the large bowl.

9. Whisk the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer until soft peaks form. Then stir in the whipped egg whites into the smooth asparagus cheese mixture until integrated.

10. Spray down paper muffin liners and then measure three tablespoons of asparagus cheese batter into each muffin liner.

11. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Serve immediately.

NOTE: These can easily be made ahead of time for a quick weekday breakfast on the go. Merely pop them into the microwave for about 30 – 45 seconds to reheat them. You can keep them in the fridge for about a week.

 

Photo Credit: jennysteffens.blogspot.com and recipe photo provided by author

Annelies Zijderveld brings food, poetry and art into one delicious party over at www.thefoodpoet.com, and tweet at @thefoodpoet. She's worked with food for the past 11 years and finally has found the perfect brunch spot in the city where she resides, San Francisco.

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