“Veggie melt?” Jamie Claire asked.
“No, Béchamel,” I said as clearly as I could.
Granted, I have a large kitchen, but Jamie Claire was standing not two feet away while I tried to over-enunciate the name of the sauce I was using in the lasagna I made for us. I invited Jamie Claire over for dinner after she’d had a rough week, what with someone destroying her car in a head-on collision and a few other life nuisances that seemed to build up and execute within a short time span, as they generally aim to do. And it’s not that I have an ego about my cooking skills, but the food I make tends to make people’s worries disappear. What can I say, it’s my superpower.
So I guess it’s lucky that she caught me during my week of exploring the mother sauces with subsequent matching dishes to serve them with. To accompany this post I made a three cheese mushroom and basil lasagna with a parma rosa Béchamel sauce that I slathered on each layer with wild abandon.
The history of Béchamel is a little foggy, much like the other sauces we’ve discussed this week, and there are a few theories of its origin being thrown around the culinary world. One says it was Marquis Louis de Béchamel, a 17th century French financier, had thought up the sauce while messing around in the kitchen trying to find new ways to dress up dishes. While that seems like a true enough story given the shared name, it’s probably not true since Béchamel was known for his work in finances and wearing of ladies frilly underwear (allegedly), not his cooking. A more likely origin is that it was created by Chef Francois Pierre de la Varenne, who had penned the recipe in his famous cookbook Le Cuisinier Francois, and had named it after Béchamel as an homage. It’s not known why Pierre de la Varenne was reminded of Béchamel when making this particular sauce. I mean, who knows what saucy shenanigans were going on between those two? Since all we can do is speculate at this point, I will just say that Béchamel must’ve been a stand up guy.
Béchamel is the third sauce I’ve made this week, and has definitely proven to be the easiest sauce I’ve ever made, EVER. All it contains is a white roux, slightly warmed milk added to the roux, and a pinch of nutmeg. It’s almost like a thin eggnog, only without the egg…or the nog. And that’s it!
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup butter (note: you can use 1/4 cup of olive oil as a healthier substitution)
- 4 cups of slightly warmed milk
- Pinch of nutmeg or clove
The first step in creating the Béchamel is to warm 4 cups of milk slightly on a burner while creating a white roux (1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup flour). We don’t use cold milk because it will take forever to make the sauce, waiting for it to warm up after each ladle of milk. We don’t use hot milk, because you don’t want to run the risk of scalding the milk and giving it a nasty, burnt taste.
Right before the roux gets to a blond state, begin ladling in the warm milk, one spoonfull at a time, and whisking it in thoroughly with the roux ensuring each spoonful is fully incorporated before adding the next.
After all the milk has been included, allow the roux to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes while stirring frequently, ensuring that it doesn’t stick or burn to the bottom of the pan. While it simmers the sauce will thicken, and you should allow it to thicken until it leaves a thick coat on the back of a wooden (or plastic, or metal) spoon.
Remove from heat, add nutmeg or clove, and use it for any number of sauces you’d like! You can add red sauce (as I did) for a more dynamic flavor, keep it simple and add onion, garlic, salt and pepper or you can do any number of additions to make this sauce meet whatever flavor you need.
Jamie Claire and I ate the delicious lasagna and talked about a cruddy week, and how a cruddy week can be made to seem insignificant with good food. We also talked about how if we died and someone looked through our Safari history on our iPhones, we would probably be judged endlessly (for instance I am now looking through my history and I’m finding entries such as “avada kedavra,” “Tom Waits,” “why is my cat so afraid of me when I have fire,” and “yerrow asians” [?!?]).
I may not have eliminated Jamie Claire’s woes for the week, but I think it’s safe to say that the lasagna helped a little. It’s kind of like how funerals are usually succeeded by smorgasbords; somehow food helps make any problem seem more manageable.
Besides, would you ever be sad if you had a friend that cooked for you, dressed up for you and took pictures like this?
I didn’t think so.
Three Cheese Mushroom and Basil Lasagna
Time: 1 1/2 hours, start to finish
- 5 cups Béchamel sauce
- 1 1/4 cups tomato sauce
- 1lb cooked lasagna noodles
- 1/2 white onion, chopped
- 24 oz baby bella mushrooms, chopped
- 4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 1/3 lbs ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, hand-ripped
- 3 eggs
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil and cook onions until soft and add mushrooms. Add salt and pepper and cook mushrooms until they have given off most of their liquid. Drain and set aside.
- Add tomato sauce to Béchamel and season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix together one cup of the mozzarella cheese with the ricotta cheese, eggs and basil until well blended.
- In a 9×13 inch baking dish, spoon about 1/4 of the Béchamel sauce on the bottom and lay down the first sheet of lasagna noodles. Add 1/2 the ricotta mixture and half the mushroom mixture and 1 cup of the mozzarella and coat with 1/4 of the Béchamel sauce.
- Add another layer of noodles and repeat with the same mixture. Add a final layer of noodles and top with remaining mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese. Place dish on a tinfoil lined cookie sheet, cover the lasagna with tinfoil, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove tinfoil and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, or until the cheese has browned.
- Remove from oven, let sit 10 minutes and serve.
Afterward look through your iPhone history and delete anything incriminating.
NEXT POST: Mother Sauces Part IV of V: Tomato Sauce.