About a month ago a headline on Gourmet.com caught my eye: What Ever Happened to James Beard? Once indisputably the central figure in American food, today James Beard is for most people the name attached to a cookbook award or perhaps associated with some foundation’s financial scandal. It was true, I realized, that all I knew about him came from anecdotes in other people’s memoirs and histories. He is always depicted in such books not just as the “dean of American cookery” but as an involved and gossipy connector of people and giver of advice. Because he mentored and shaped so many important food careers, Laura Shapiro says, his influence is still with us today, even if his vibrant personality and many books no longer occupy center stage.
I decided it was about time to try The James Beard Cookbook. Although it has undergone some light revisions in the intervening half century, the edition available today from Marlowe & Company is, for the most part, the same comprehensive and unintimidating collection of recipes that Dell published in 1959 as the first trade paperback cookbook. Since one of Beard’s aims here was to encourage new cooks, I chose something slightly intimidating that I had never made before—soufflé. Spinach soufflé, to be exact: moist and light and, in the end, not tricky at all.
- Yield:4 quite generously
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup scalded milk
- 4 eggs plus 1 additional egg white
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup puréed or finely chopped drained, cooked, spinach (I used frozen)
- 2 teaspoons grated onion
Melt the butter and blend in the flour. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually stir in the milk, blending it in smoothly. Return to the stove and continue cooking and stirring until thick and smooth. Cool the sauce slightly.
Beat the egg yolks until light and lemon-colored.
Stir the salt into the white sauce. Stir the beaten yolks into the white sauce. Stir in the spinach and onion. (I added some pepper and a grating of nutmeg, too.)
Beat the egg whites until stiff but still moist (not dry as they would be for meringue). Fold half of the whites into the spinach sauce fairly well. Fold in the second half quite lightly.