The weather here in Virginia has been unusually mild, cool enough to invigorate, but not too warm to make working in the garden uncomfortable. Since there are only a few weeks left in the dormant season, I've been back out in it, trying to get as much as possible under control before spring.
I'm doing the work mostly alone, with limited tools, which would be daunting for someone half my age. And as the masses of yard waste, pruned limbs, felled trees, cut bamboo, and tangles of cut vines continue to pile up, what remains to be done is a little overwhelming. It's probably to be expected that my cooking has been basic and heavy on winter comfort food that I've shared too often to revisit on this page.
But every now and again inspiration strikes. It may be an unexpected discovery under the blankets of ivy, better progress with clearing than anticipated, the exercise stimulating my aging brain, or just a sudden craving for something I've not made in a good while, like this spinach soufflé that was the ultimate fancy company side dish during my youth in the seventies.
Spinach Gratin or Soufflé for Two
This is really a gratin and not a souffle, but that's what Southerners tend to call any casserole that's set with eggs. Never mind: whatever you call it, it's welcome cold weather fare that makes a fine side dish for company, and is substantial enough to serve as a one-dish meal for home folks when accompanied by hot biscuits or a warm, crusty loaf of bread.
If you have a larger household or are having company, it doubles nicely to serve 6 as a side dish. Double everything but the butter, increasing that only by a tablespoon.
1 10-ounce package chopped frozen spinach, thawed
2 tablespoons butter
3 small or 2 medium scallions, washed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ cup coarsely grated Gruyere
2 tablespoons fine-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
Whole nutmeg in a grater
1. Lightly squeeze the excess moisture from the spinach. Warm the butter and scallions in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and sauté until softened, about 1 minute. Add the spinach and toss until it's hot through. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until it's smooth, then gradually stir in milk. Bring to simmer, stirring constantly, adjust heat to medium-low and simmer about 5 minutes. If you want it a little creamier, add a splash or so of heavy cream and let it thicken slightly.
2. Remove pan from heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes. Lightly but thoroughly mix in the egg. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the Gruyere and mix the remainder and 1 tablespoon of the Parmigiano into the spinach. Season lightly with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then taste, and adjust the seasonings as needed.
3. Butter an 8-inch gratin dish or shallow 3 cup casserole and the spinach, smoothing the top to level it. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the top. It can be made several hours ahead to this point; let cool completely, then cover and let stand at room temperature for up to 2 hours, refrigerated after that.
4. About 45 minutes before serving, position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375° F. and if the gratin has been refrigerated, remove it. Uncover and bake until bubbly at center and topping cheese is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.