This soufflé is light, satisfying, and beautiful. You can envision a French farmwife from the last century making this, and it's a bit wondrous that we make it much the same way today, and take such pleasure in this technique. Very flavorful but still cloud-like, this soufflé is light enough for a warm summer's day.
Use a good ricotta–we like Bellwether Farms' Whole Milk Ricotta [or substitute our organic Fromage Blanc]. And the eggs need to be fresh, or the whites won't get as fluffy as they need to be. - Sue Conley & Peggy Smith (Cowgirl Creamery Founders)
1 cup whole milk or half-and-half
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh chives
1/2 cup ricotta cheese or Fromage Blanc (about one 5.3 oz container)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 fat asparagus spears, blanched
4 egg whites
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Butter a 10-in baking dish and set it aside.
To make the béchamel: Whisk together the milk and egg yolks and set aside. Add the butter to a medium saucepan or skillet (don't use a nonstick pan). When it's sizzling, add the flour and whisk constantly over medium heat until the mixture shows just a little color. Don't let it turn brown. Keep whisking while you slowly pour in the milk-egg mixture. It's fine if the butter and flour seize up when you add the liquid. Just keep whisking. Add the chives and, while whisking, let the mixture cook over medium heat until it thickens slightly, about 1 minute. When the mixture has a velvety texture, stir in the ricotta, salt, and pepper. Set the mixture in the pan aside to cool to room temperature (so the eggs won't curdle when you add the warm, blanched asparagus).
To make the soufflé: Preheat the oven to 450F.
Cut the blanched asparagus stalks into thin rounds all the way up to and including the tip of each spear. Set aside. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed or with a whick, whip the egg whites until they hold a gently peak. Don't overbeat, or you'll break the proteins and the whites won't expand as much during cooking. Gently fold the basil and chives into the beaten whites.
Touch the béchamel to be sure it's at room temperature. Stir the asparagus into the cooled béchamel. Gently fold in about half of the egg whites. Very delicately fold in the last of the egg whites and pour the mixture into the buttered pan.
Cook the soufflé for 7 minutes and then decrease the heat to 400F. Cook until the soufflé is lightly browned on top and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 10 to 12 minutes more.
Sprinkle the parsley over the top and serve right away.