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

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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

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.

Polpette . . . aka Meatballs !

Meatballs in tomato sauceThese meatballs are so tasty . . . . delicious !

Ingredients:

  • 60 g old bread
  • 60 ml milk
  • 500 g ground beef
  • 1 Tbsp granular stock
  • parsley – finely chopped
  • 20 g finely chopped onion
  • 1 egg
  • 30 g grated parmesan
  • 1 tbsp red wine
  • breadcrumbs

Procedure:

  • crumble bread and soak in milk
  • chop onion and put in cold water to purge
  • put meat, egg, parmesan, stock, wine, parsley in large bowl and mix together
  • add drained onion and soaked bread after squeezing the excess milk out
  • mix well then form little balls (I use an icecream scoop to form them)
  • roll balls in breadcrumbs
  • cook in frying pan with oil
Tips:
When I make these I usually use about 1 kg of ground beef. I freeze the meatballs so when I know I’ll be home late for dinner, all I have to do is thaw them during the day and they are ready after a few minutes in the frying pan  !
How do you make your meatballs ? why don’t you send me your recipe?