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

Advertisements

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 !!