This classic French white sauce is an essential ingredient in everything from Italian Bolognese-style lasagna to the classic French sandwich the Croque Monsieur, and even most classic mac and cheese recipes.
Béchamel is one of the most classic French sauces out there. It's known as a "Mother Sauce" because it's used as the basis for a handful of other classic sauces like Mornay. The sauce is made by cooking a roux (a mixture of melted fat (usually butter) and flour) and then whisking in milk and simmering it until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
The amounts of fat and flour are traditionally equal to each other and then the amount of milk added determines how thick the final sauce is. Here we finish it with freshly grated nutmeg as that's the classic way to make it for Lasagne alla Bolognese but you can steep the milk with a variety of flavors (see below for ideas).
You may be surprised to see that this traditional Italian recipe calls for a classic French sauce but it’s just proof of how much influence French cuisine has had on northern Italian food in the last few hundred years. Though it's not as béchamel sauce in France and in the United States, it's called besciamella (pronounced "besh-ah-mell-ah") in Italy.
This sauce is slightly thicker than other béchamel sauces (like the one you'd use to make classic mac and cheese) because it acts sort of like culinary glue that holds the lasagna together.
If you wanted to make this thinner to use for mac and cheese or a standalone sauce, simply add 1 to 2 cups more milk. Also, if you want more flavor in the sauce, you can infuse the milk with some herbs or spices.
To do so, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat then add in whatever you'd like (say parsley, thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, black peppercorns, shallots, or garlic cloves) and let the milk sit aside until it's the flavor you'd like. Also, this can be made dairy free by using and unflavored alternative milk like soy milk.
Heads up that we made this recipe during our Cooking Club Lasagna Workshop. So, if you want to see it made step by step -- and get a glimpse of the menu we'd pair this with -- go ahead and check out the recording of the workshop.
Want to cook this recipe at a later date? Pin it to your Pinterest account so you can access it when you need some cooking inspiration!
or "00" flour (use gluten free flour as desired)
or soy milk to make it dairy free
Make The Roux: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Fill a fine mesh sieve with the measured flour. While whisking constantly, sprinkle the flour into the butter. Let the mixture cook until the raw flour taste is gone but don’t let it brown.
Add The Milk: While continuing to whisk, pour the milk in a steady stream into the roux. Let the mixture cook, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, until it coats the back of a spoon and when you draw your finger across the back of the spoon, it leaves a trail, about 10 minutes.
Season The Bechamel: Add a generous pinch of salt and grate some nutmeg into the mixture. Set aside until ready to use.
The sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead. Store refrigerated in an airtight container and warm up before assembling the lasagna so it’s spreadable.
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Photo Credit: Laura Adani