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

Tuscan Sourdough Bread

Tuscan BreadYou are probably thinkin: “ok, I’ve got my sourdough now . . . what will I do with it !?! ”

Make the best bread in the world, Tuscan Bread! The reason why Tuscan bread is so good, is that there is no salt. In Tuscany we eat bread with almost anything, from salame, to salad, to pasta sauce, and even with choccolate or walnuts.

Here is how I make it:

After I pack my kids lunches ( around 7.00 am) I feed my sourdough and let it rest for around 4 hours. When it is nice and puffy and ready to go, I start with the bread:

Ingredients:

50g of sourdough, 180g warm water, 230g flour ( I use all purpose), ¼ teaspoon of honey.

I mix all ingredients together for about 5 mintues and then I let it rest for 10 minutes and then with my spatula I do what is called “stretch and fold” straight from the bowl – this technique is the equivalent to kneading, or folding the dough ( like one does when making puff pastry. Here you can find a video of how it is done. I do this every 10 minutes for 4 times and then put my bread dough in the turned off oven with just the light on. The dough will rest in the oven for 8 hours, or untill doubled in size. If your timetable will not allow you to bake 8 hours after you have mixed your dough, you can put the bowl in the refrigerator for up to 1 day, when ready to bake you should leave it at least 1 hour, or up to 2 hours, at room temperature and then proceed with the baking.

Dough rising

Once the 8 hours have passed I do one more round of stretch and fold, and then I turn the dough on a floured suface, I shape my loaf and let it rest untill the oven is ready,

I preheat the oven to 220°C and put an empty loaf or pie pan on the bottom rack. When the oven is ready I put the bread on a baking sheet, I slash it with a knife or make some cuts with a pair of scissors, then I set it in the top ½ of the oven, then I pour about 1 cup of boiling water in the empty pan on the bottom rack. I close the oven door and let it cook for 30 / 40 minutes.

The reason why I put the hot water in the oven is to generate steam, the steam will help the bread rise and will make the crust nice and crunchy.Crunchy Crust on Tuscan bread

My “Mama”

Tuscan Bread sourdoughI am the proud mother of 2 “Mother Dough”, they were officially born September 6, it was a long “labour” but we did it !

In English you call it “sourdough”, in Italian we call it Pasta Madre ( mother dough) or Lievito Madre ( mother yeast) or Lievito Naturale (natural yeast). I don’t like calling it sourdough because it is really NOT suor.

There are many different recipes for making it from scratch, and there are many people who will donate it to you – in Italy there is a whole network of “mother dough smugglers” who will donate you some of their “mama” and teach you how to take care of it.

Yes, “mama” is a living organism, it is a fermentation of water and flour with the help of some good bacteria that is found in the air, and in some recipes in fruit, yogurt, or other ingredients.

Before I started my “mama” I did a fair amount of research on blogs, web sites, youTube, my books, library books, Facebook groups, and friends, then I decided to go my way ( as usual).

This is what I did, I mixed 30g of water (tap) with 30g of all purpouse (bleached) flour, and left it on the counter all day and all night, the next day I did it again, and again, and after a week I had a huge blob of stinky stuff on the counter . . . so it all went down the toilet . . .  yuck !!

Then I did even more research . . .. and did it properly: 30g of unbleached all purpouse flour ( you can use rye or whole wheat flour ) and 30 g of bottled water ( I believe that the chlorine in the water and in the flour killed my first “mama”),  I mixed it nicely and left it on the counter. The next day I took 30g of the mixture, added 30g of bottled water and 30g of the flour and let it sit, I also added a teeny weeny  pinch of sugar. I did this twice a day for about 6 days, during these 6 days you will notice ( if you wish to have your own “mama”) that there are bubbles forming inside your misture! That is the bacteria that is fermenting with the flour and water ( and itzy bitzy bit of sugar), every day you will see it grow bigger and get more bubbles.

. . .  so how long does this last ?!? Good question, when you notice that your mixture doubles in size in about 4 hours, then it is ready. An other way to see if it is ready is to drop a little bit in a glass of water, if it floats . . . it’s ready.

Once it is ready you can call it a Mother Dough ( or sourdough if you prefer) – At this point you can keep it in the refrigerator and “feed” it every 3 – 4 – 5 – or even 7 days !

This is the time you need to decide weather you want a liquid sourdough or a solid sourdough. I am still deciding . . .  so I can’t tell you what I like best. But I can tell you how to feed the liquid and how to feed the solid:

For the liquid, you will use the same amount of “mama” and flour and water – so it is the same as you have done to create it, for example 30 g of sourdough, 30 g of flour, 30g or water.

This is what the liquid looks like: Liquid Sourdough

For the solid, you will use the same amount of “mama and flour, and only ½ of that amount of water – for example 30g of sourdough, 30g of flour, 15g of water.

This is what the solid looks like: Solid Sourdough

Whichever you have, it is best ( although not crucial) to leave it at room temperature for 20 / 30 minutes before you feed it, and it is important to leave it about 3 hours at room temp. before you put it back into the fridge.

So the liquid sourdough you just use a teaspoon and stirr all together and leave it in the container to grow for a few hours before it goes into the refrigerator.

The solid one requires a little bit of work, you have to make sure that the flour is all absorbed and that you end up with a nice and smooth but slightly sticky ball, then you should cut a cross on it and let it rest for a few hours. After it has rested, and usually doubled in size, you can “punch it down” and work it into a little ball again, and put it in the refrigerator.

. . . And all this work is for . . . ?!?!? an other good question !! this is natural yeast, it can be used instead of brewer’s yeast when baking. This is how the bread was made in the “old” days. Bread baked with natural yeast is not only more flavourfull, but it will also last longer and is better for you – as it has really long rising times, it will not keep rising in your tummy after you have eaten in ( as yeast does !)

Tuscan Sourdough bread