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

Kale – 10 ways of preparing it

In this time of the year, in this part of the world . . . it’s Kale season !

Kale is part of the Cabbage vamily and is very rich in Vitamin A, C and Potassium

 

(even after cooking).

But how do we prepare it ? how do we cook it?

To clean the kale (this is black kale ) you need to remove the center spine of the leaves, it is hard even after cooking. In the picture you can see the difference between a “clean” leaf and a whole one.

Kale needs to be washed in plenty cold water and cooked in plenty boiling salted water for about 10 / 15 minutes. After it has been boiled there are many many ways to cook or serve it, here are 10 ideas:

  1. on bread with extra virgin olive oil: slightly toast a slice of tuscan bread, rub a piece of garlic on one side, cover the slice of bread with cooked kale ( and a little bit of it’s cooking water) and dress with new tuscan extra virgin olive oil, green and tangy.
  2. sauteed in a pan: drain the kale and keep one or two cups of it’s cooking water aside. Roughly chop the kale. Sautee it in a pan with olive oil and garlic. As you sautee it you can ad other flavours like: red pepper, fresh ginger, anchovies, beans, sausages, pieces of bacon . . .
  3. once it is sauteed, kale is great to dress pasta or gnocchi – just remember to always keep a cup of the pasta’s cooking water to add to the pasta as you dress it, this will make the sauce softer and it will “hug” the pasta better
  4. ribollita – see recipe
  5. in the oven with eggs: roughly chop the cooked kale and dress it with oil and salt and a clove of garlic if you like it. Arrange the kale in an oven proof dish leaving little craters for the eggs. Set a raw egg in each crater and loosen the white of the egg so that it runns through the kale leaves. Add salt and pepper on the eggs and set in a hot oven for a few minutes ( the cooking time depends on how well done you like your eggs)
  6. kale is great with stewed squid, or with shrimp – sauteed with a splash of lemon
  7. frittata – beat a couple of eggs per person, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture in a greased frying pan, add the cooked chopped kale ( if you have any leftover sauteed kale it  works great !). Let cook covered on low heat. If you are looking for more body in your frittata, add some sliced boiled potatoes . . . .
  8. Kale Chips :Preheat oven to 250°F. Toss kale with olive oil in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange leaves in single layer on baking sheet. Bake until crisp, about 30 minutes for flat leaves and up to 33 minutes for wrinkled leaves. Transfer leaves to rack to cool.
  9. Cream of Kale with spelt: Sautee the roughly chopped kale with olive oil and garlic. Add 1 cup of vegetable broth and let cook untill kale is very dender. Puree the kale (add some broth if necessary) and return to skillet, add cooked farro and correct the seasoning. Serve with a splash of fresh new olive oil.
  10. simply boiled and dressed with olive oil, salt and a few drops of fresh lemon juice!

Kale will keep for a few days in the refrigerator and can be frozen after it has been par-boiled . . .  enjoy it !!

Home made Pesto

Basil

Basil

Temperatures are nice and warm, garden centers are as busy as an anthill, for me it is time to stock up on the herbs !

I like to make as much of the food we eat myself, and pesto is one of the easiest and most versatile sauces that can be made . . . .  needless to say, it is also extremely delicious.

Here is my recipe, which comes from the “Consorzio del Pesto Genovese” which is the consortium of Genoese pesto. Unfortunately mine can not be called “Pesto alla Genovese” because I will not find the same variety of basil that they use in Liguria ( the region in Italy where pesto is made) which is called “Ocimum Basilicum”

Pesto

Pesto

Ingredients for 4 people:

– 50 grams of fresh basil – 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil – 6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese – 4 tablespoons of Pecorino cheese – 2 cloves of garlic (the rule requires 1 clove every 30 leaves of basil) – 1 tablespoon of pine nuts – a pinch of salt.

Old fashion way:

  • Wash the basil leaves and let them dry on a tea towel.
  • In a marble mortar with a wooden pestle crush the garlic with a pinch of salt.
  • When the garlic has turned into a creme add the basil leaves, a few at a time, and gently crush them with a round movement so that you can extract all the essential oils.
  • When the mixture becomes bright green add a handfull of pine nuts and work them into the basil to make a paste.
  • Now you can add the two cheeses and when everything is all combined you add the olive oil, piano piano = little by little untill you reach the desired consistency.

Modern way:

  • Wash the basil leaves and gently dry them with a tea towel, insert all ingredients with 1/2 of the oil in a food processor and pulse untill the pesto comes together, or in a tall container and blend with an immersion blender, then add the remaining olive oil untill you reach the desired consistency.

Tips:

– You can make large quantities of pesto and freezer it, I like to put it in muffin tins, lined with paper liners, this way I have the right quantity whenever I need it.

– To avoid it from oxidizing and turning dark green add a little bit of sparkling mineral water