Besciamella Sauce

Besciamella is a creamy white sauce made from milk thickened with roux (cooked butter and flour).  Most people refer to this sauce by it’s French name, “Bechemel,” but it’s widely used in Italian cuisine as well, especially in the northern regions of the country. I’m posting this recipe as a part of our Lasagna Bolognese series as it is a key component of that dish; however, the sauce can be used for a variety of culinary purposes. It comes together quickly, requires only a few ingredients, and is relatively easy to master.

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How to make Besciamella Sauce

The first step in making Besciamella is by making a roux with approximately equal amounts (by weight) of flour and butter. You’ll melt the butter, then stir in the flour to create a paste and cook until the flour no longer smells raw, but before the mixture begins to brown. Then, add warmed milk – very slowly at first to prevent lumps – and simmer gently until thickened. If you do get lumps, you can always throw it in a blender or blitz it with an immersion blender to break them up – it’s fairly forgiving. Season with salt, pepper, (I like to add red pepper flakes as well) and voila: besciamella! If you’d like to punch it up a bit, you can infuse the milk with garlic, onions, and/or herbs. If you’d like to make a cheese sauce – which I usually do for lasagna bolognese as an alternative to layering in parmeggiano reggiano – add a cup or two of grated cheese immediately after turning off the heat.

Roux

Roux

Properly thickened besciamella

Properly thickened besciamella

Cheese being added after the sauce has been removed from the heat

Cheese being added after the sauce has been removed from the heat

What to use Besciamella Sauce for 

The recipe below is intended to be used as a part of a lasagna bolognese. If you don’t feel like taking on that type of project, there are lots of other great uses for besciamella. You can make mac and cheese by adding in half of the optional parmigiano reggiano along with two or so cups of grated sharp cheddar or cheese of your choice (either mix it with cooked pasta and eat off the stovetop or mix with par cooked pasta, top with bread crumbs, dot with butter, and bake). Another great option is to pour the sauce (with or without the parmigiano reggiano) over blanched veggies, top with bread crumbs and butter, and pop under the broiler for a few minutes for a delicious gratin.  

Besciamella Sauce Recipe

6 tablespoons butter
½ cup flour
6 cups whole milk
1 cup coarsely grated parmigiano reggiano (optional, but highly recommend if using for lasagna bolognese)
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Gently heat milk in a medium saucepan – allow it to just come to a simmer then remove from heat. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring constantly until the flour no longer smells raw but before the mixture begins to brown. Slowly begin to stream in milk while continuing to whisk. Once the mixture becomes a viscous liquid, stir in the rest of the milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently until the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese if using. Stir in salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. 

Lasagna Bolognese Assembly Instructions

Assembling Lasagna Bolognese

Assembling Lasagna Bolognese

Preheat the oven to 325. 

Generously butter a 13X9 inch baking dish. Spread 1 cup of ragu bolognese on the bottom of the dish. Arrange cooked lasagna noodles in a single layer on top of the sauce (you may need to trim the noodles in order to make them fit), then ladle a generous cup of besciamella sauce over the noodles, followed by about 1 ½ cups of ragu. Repeat 4 times* (there should be 5 layers of noodles), and top with the remaining besciamella. 

Bake for about one hour, or until the top layer of sauce is golden brown in spots and the corners are crunchy. Enjoy!

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Chelsea is one third of the Euro Travel Coach team (and is the daughter of the other two thirds of the team, Greg and Betsy). She has a passion for food and wine and has a background in hospitality. She attended Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and interned with two of New York City’s best restaurant groups while she was in school. After graduation she worked at the number one wine auction house in the United States, Chicago’s Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. There, she organized various wine centric events for HDH’s most valuable clients. She and her husband moved to Copenhagen, Denmark in 2016 and then to Bristol, UK in 2018 and have traveled extensively during their time living in Europe. Her expertise in food and wine and her experience living abroad helps her to find amazing accommodations, delicious restaurants, and unique experiences for Euro Travel Coach clients.

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