The basics – White Sauce aka Béchamel

Winter Vegetable Pasta Casserole

Winter Vegetable Pasta Casserole

We have covered the base of most Italian sauces, soffritto. Now we can talk about one of the staples of French Cuisine, which is widely used in Italian Cuisine also, Béchamel sauce.

Many recipes of the French Cuisine are also part of the Italian Cuisine, not only do the two countries share borders, but in history there have been many occasions when the Italians influenced the French, and vice versa.

One of main differences between the French Cuisine and Italian Cuisine, is that the French wrote down the recipes into a book, and therefore claimed them and made them a “rule” . . . in Italy each family has their own version of the same sauce . . .  and no one really wrote them down.

So, back to our White Sauce, it is as easy as 1, 2, 3, and can be upgraded and flavoured in thousands of ways, it is the base of the famous cheese soufle, and many other fancy dishes. For everyday life, it is a great way to make casseroles creamy, and a wonderful way to use up left over vegetables in the refrigerator!

basic Béchamel Sauce:

  • 50 g butter
  • 50 g flour
  • 500g milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

The main thing is that you keep the proportions, if you need more, you can make it with 100g butter and flour, and 1 litre of milk, and so on . . .

I put the milk in a microwave proof container to heat up, if you don’t have a microwave you can heat it up on the stove top.

In a pot large enough to hold all of the ingredients, I heat the butter and flour together. The main idea is to melt the butter and toast the flour until it is all one paste – if you cook too much and it turns brown, it is also very good . . . just a bit more colourful  ;-)

When the butter and flour are bubbling and starting to become golden, add the hot milk to the pot slowly while whisking continuously to avoid the formation of lumps. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Once you have mastered this, you can spin off any flavour, you can minced onion, or garlic, or other flavourings to your butter flour mixture, or you can add cheese or spices at  the end, or you can make it “heavier” by using whipping creme or “lighter” by using half milk and half water or stock. You can make it Gluten Free by using rice flour instead of the all purposed flour, and you can make it Vegan by using olive oil instead of butter, and soya milk instead of milk.

I love to use it when I make Pasta Casserole ( photo above), or to dress up vegetables for a special dinner ( photo below ).

Broccoli and coloured cauliflower casserole

Broccoli and coloured cauliflower casserole

Weekly Menu . . . let’s get back on track !

Tuna Fish Meatballs

Tuna Fish Meatballs

Summer has been busy, and it has been fun to be “off track” and not have a real schedule . . .  but now we need to get back to real life !

This week I am going to get back on track and plan my family’s meals ahead. I like to do this so that I do not need to think about what’s for dinner or what I’ll be offering my children for lunch every morning . . . the thinking has already been done!

I share my weekly menu on this blog for two reasons, the first is so that you can benefit from my thinking ( if you wish) and take some of my ideas for your own weekly meals. You will find many of my recipes on this blog also.

The second reason why I share this plan is that maybe you live in the Collingwood Ontario area and would like to order some of my food . . .  this way you don’t need to think about it OR cook it !!

Monday: Lunch will a lovely Egg salad sandwich. Dinner will be pasta with my home made Pesto.

Tuesday:Lunch will be a baguette sandwich filled with Tuscan salame. Dinner tonight will be Barley Risotto with Mushrooms

Wednesday: Lunch will be Pasta with Tomato sauce ( home made with my soffritto) and dinner will be Tuna Meatballs.

Thursday: Lunch will be a smoked turkey breast roll. Dinner tonight will be the family favourite Mozzarella in Carrozza. I always make extra of this because the kids love it the next day too !!

Mozzarella in Carrozza

Mozzarella in Carrozza

Friday: Lunch will be Mozzarella in Carrozza from last night.  Dinner tonight will be Saltimbocca alla Romana.

Saturday lunch is when the kids are home and we will be eating up the leftovers from the dinners during the week . . . if there are any !! Dinner on saturday needs to be easy as I am never home – Pasta with meat sauce will be perfect!

Sunday . . .  I think that I will surprise the family with a nice brunch on Sunday and prepare some home made waffles, a nice frittata and bacon and eggs. Dinner tonight will be a nice leek and potato soup . . .  I hope there will be enough for lunch on monday too !!!

Please feel free do download my weekly meal planner if you wish to plan your meals like I do: Meal plan link

 

 

Soffritto, battuto, mirepoix . . . whatever you call it. . . it is the base !

Some people call it “soffritto” ( which means fried in shallow grease), some people call it “battuto” which litterally means beaten, in Canada I’ve heard it called Mirepoix ( which is not really correct . . .  but we can talk about it in an other post).

Onion carrot celery

These three ingredients, finely minced, are the base of very many recipes of the Italian Cuisine, with this mixture you can give flavour and richness even to the most simple and trivial dishes.

I can not call this a recipe, because this, as I mentioned above, is the base of many many recipes. The problem that most of us may encounter is that we don’t always have fresh carrots or celery in the refrigerator, or maybe we don’t have the time to chop them finely by hand . . . and, let’s be honest, pulling out the food processor and having one more thing to wash is always a pain!

What do I do ? It’s really simple: With my food processor I finely chop a “nice quantity” of the tree ingredients – the proportions between carrot, celery and onion are very personal . . . some people add other ingrediens to these as parcely or other herbs – I prefer to keep the flavour balanced and simple so that I can use it for as many dishes as possible.

Chopped soffritto battuto

Once everything is finely chopped, being careful that it doesn’t become liquid, I put it into small plastic bags for the freezer, I find that the ones with a zipper are the best, here in Italy you can find them at IKEA .  For a more practical use, I fill the bag about half way, then I lay it on the table and flatten it so that I let as much ari out as possible, then I freeze it flat. Once it is frozen it will be nice and hard and will take up less space, when I am preparing a sauce, or a risotto or a stew  and need some soffritto all I have to do is open the bag, break off as much as I need, and then return the bag into the freezer.

This way I always have my basic ingredients handy, there is no waste, and I only have to work once ;-)

BATTUTO SOFFRITTO

Sacchetto battuto soffritto

Mussels au gratin

Mussels au gratin

For 4 people I bought one bag of fresh mussels and cleaned them . . . I like doing it myself better than having the machine do it  . . . or you can buy a bag of frozen mussels in their shell.

To clean the mussels you need to rip out the “rope” that sticks out of the shell with a certain energy. You must throw away all the mussels which are open or have a broken shell . . .  better safe than sorry! Once all the rope is removed you need to scrub the shells with a metal brush to remove all the dirt.

I poured a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and added one or two cloves of garlic then as it was all heating I put all the mussels in the pan. I stirred just enough to have all the mussels be “touched” by the oil and then covered them. I let them cook on low flame stirring once until all the shells were opend.

When the mussels open it means they are cooked. If the mussel did not open it’s shell, it is not good and you MUST throw it away – don’t try to open it !

Once the mussels were cooked, I prepared a large baking sheet and set each of the half shells with mussel on it – discarding the empty half shell – and set it aside.

I filtered the liquid that was left in the pan and set it aside.

I then made some coarse breadcrumbs with some tuscan bread, and mixed it with chopped parsley, chopped garlic and grated parmesan. I then added some of the cooking liquid from the mussels to soften the mixture up – but not enough to make it soggy. You can use panko instead of bread crumbs, but you want to crush it a little bit as it would be too coarse.

With a teaspoon I “filled” the mussel shells in the baking sheet with the bread mixture, then drizzled some olive oil on  top and cooked it for 10 – 15 minutes in a hot oven (350F or 180C)

DELICIOUS!!

Barley “risotto” with mushrooms

Barley and mushroom "risotto"

Barley and mushroom “risotto”

As we all know, “risotto” is a typical italian dish made with rice. You need to use a short grain rice that is quite starchy, like Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano . . .

Risotto is also the way the rice is cooked,  by adding the liquid to the pot of rice as it is absorbed while stirring frequently.

What I did last night is make a “risotto” using pearled barley instead of rice !!

. . .  so here are the details. ..

The main ingredients

The main ingredients

You will need button mushrooms sliced, portobello mushrooms sliced, garlic, olive oil, butter, parmesan cheese, some red wine, and stock (I used vegetable but meat is good too). . .  and some herbs . .  . I used thyme leaves

I measured 80g of barley per person and set it to the side. I got a small pot ( I was cooking just for me) of stock on one of the burners and kept it simmering – I use stock cubes for this kind of dish.

In a frying pan I added olive oil and garlic, and let it heat up just enough so that the garlic gives out some of its flavour to the oil. Then I added the portobello mushrooms and let them cook for a few minutes. When they were about ¼ cooked I added the sliced button mushrooms and let them cook, stirring often, until they were about ½ cooked.

I removed the mushrooms from the pan and set them aside in a plate. Without washing the pan I added some more olive oil and returned it to the burner. I poured the pearled barley into the pan and let it toast for a few minutes, then I put the mushrooms back into the pan and deglazed with a bit of red wine. I then started to add the stock, one ladle at a time, stiring well so that all the ingredients are well blended and that no barley is stuck to the sides. Let the barley and mushrooms cook, stirring occasionally, and when the barley has absorbed the stock, add some more. Keep adding stock, and stirring to mix ingredients until the barley is cooked ( I like it al dente . . .  ).

When the barley is cooked, taste for salt . . .  you probably will not need much because the stock gets boiled down and evaporates and becomes more tasty . . .  and add your herbs and some pepper if you like it.

Remove from heat, add a spoon of butter and grate some parmesan cheese on top – stir these in and your barley will become a bit more creamy.

Pearled barley and mushroom risotto

Pearled barley and mushroom risotto

Serve immediately and enjoy the flavour boost !!

Weekly menu for the week starting July 7

Mini Apricot Crostata

Mini Apricot Crostata

This will be a different menu that I am sending today . . .  as we are leaving for Italy on Monday July 7, I will NOT be cooking next week !!!

I love cooking and I have made it my profession. I cook with passion and constant interest in changes and improvement . . . but it’s nice to be on holiday and not do it for a while :-)

So the menu that I’ll publish today is to give you an idea of what I can do for you. I am posting a menu for a party that I catered for 30 people.

Hors d’Ouvre

Frittata with Potatoes, Frittata with Onions, Crostini with caramelized onion and cheddar cheese, Raw vegetables with aromatic salts, Tuna and olive spread, Home made Focaccia, Home made Tuscan Bread

Caramelized onion crostini with strong cheddar

Caramelized onion crostini with strong cheddar

Entree’

Gnocchi alla Romana
(semolino gnocchi baked with blue cheese and walnuts or simply butter and sage)

Home made from scratch lasagna alla bolognese
Penne with Tomato sauce
Penne with Butter

Tuscan style Arista(pork loin cooked in the Tuscan Style)

Seasonal vegetables and roasted potatoes Mixed greens salad

Desserts

Home made Mini Apricot Crostata ( tart)

Fresh seasonal fruit salad served in a brandysnap basket

Fruit salad in brandysnap basket

Fruit salad in brandysnap basket

Triamisu

This menu was a great success and everybody enjoyed the great food.

Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta with Fresh Strawberries

Panna Cotta with Fresh Strawberries

Panna cotta is one of those desserts that always WOW’s people . . .  it is rich and delicious but also light and refreshing !

Ingredients: 1 litre of 35% creme, 200g of sugar ( about ¾ of a cup), 24g of gelatine ( if you are using sheets) otherwise follow gelatine package instructions for 4 cups of liquid, ¼ of a vanilla pod ( or ½ tsp of vanilla extract)

If you are using gelatine sheets, soak them in cold water. If you are using gelatine powder, follow the instructions on the package using your cream instead of the water they require.

Pour remaining whipping creme in a pot and add sugar and vanilla. Bring creme to a light boil, as soon as it starts to bubble remove from heat and add the drained gelatine ( if you are using the sheets) or the creme gelatine mix if you are using it.

Stir until it is all dissolved, remove the vanilla pod ( if using) and pour into a loaf pan. To make life easier, you might want to line the loaf pan with cellophane film so that it is easier to un-mold.

Refrigerate for at least 4 / 5 hours or overnight. The creme should set and have the same consistency of jello.

Serve Panna Cotta with fresh strawberries, or any berry . . .  but you can serve it with a chocolate sauce, or a caramel sauce . . . your imagination is the limit !

Strawberry panna cotta in a shot glass

Strawberry panna cotta in a shot glass

Panna Cotta can also be served in individual servings using small ramekins, or shot glasses, or champagne glasses.

If you wish to make it with less fat  you can use ½ creme and ½ milk.

You can also give the Panna Cotta different flavours by adding cocoa, or coffee to the creme ( or milk).

Individual panna cotta

Individual panna cotta