I love bechamel sauce. I mean love it. I could eat it straight out of the pot. Well, maybe not a whole pot of it, but it's not unusual for me to sneak a few spoonfuls every time I make it. And then lick the spatula clean (when I'm finished using it, of course). I always think it's amazing how just three everyday ingredients can transform into such a creamy, luxurious sauce. I grew up watching my parents and grandparents make bechamel sauce countless times. In my family, it was used mainly in lasagna, vegetable gratins, and my mom's pasta al forno, which simply means "pasta baked in the oven". As far as I know, my mom just created this recipe on her own--I never saw her using a cookbook to make this dish. She would make it mostly during the winter months, since it's a hearty dish, but I make it any time of the year, whenever I'm craving comfort food. It's nothing fancy or complicated and it comes together quickly once you've assembled the components. I usually make it the same way my mom makes it--with sauteed zucchini and diced ham, but the beauty of this dish is it's versatility. I've added fontina cheese to the bechamel sauce, and substituted pancetta as well as prosciutto for the ham. Or, leave out the meat entirely if you want to make it vegetarian-friendly.
The right type of pasta in this dish is key. I normally use rigatoni to make this, but I've also used ziti, and penne rigate. You definitely need to make this using a tubular shaped pasta, though, because you want the bechamel sauce to meander it's way into the pasta tubes and then ooze out with every mouthful. Once you feel this creamy lusciousness slide out of the pasta as you take a bite, you'll be licking the spatula clean too (once you're finished using it, of course).
Pasta with Bechamel Sauce
Bechamel sauce (recipe follows)
1/2-1 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature (for buttering baking dish)
1 T. olive oil
2 small zucchini (or one large)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. rigatoni, ziti, or penne rigate
1/3 cup diced cooked ham
2 T. freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13 oven-safe baking dish and set aside. Wash and dry the zucchini, trim ends and cut in half lengthwise. Cut each half again lengthwise and then dice into bite-size pieces. Preheat a skillet and coat with the olive oil. Saute the zucchini over medium heat until crisp-tender. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.
Make the bechamel sauce.
Recipe adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis
5 T. unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups warm whole or 2% milk (you can warm it in the microwave for about 2 minutes)
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch of freshly ground black or white pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg
In a 2 qt. or 3 qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter is completely melted, add the flour and whisk until it is incorporated and the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. It should be a pale yellow color. While whisking, add the warmed milk and continue to whisk so the mixture does not form any lumps. Simmer over medium-low heat and continue whisking until the mixture thickens and is smooth and creamy in consistency. Do not allow the sauce to boil. You will know it is at the correct consistency by coating the back of a wooden spoon with the sauce and then running your finger down the middle. If the sauce doesn't seep back to the empty area, you know it's ready. Off the heat, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir to combine. Cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and set aside.
In a large (about 8qt.) stock pot, bring water to a rolling boil and season with about 2 tablespoons of sea salt. (I recommend that you start the water while you are making the bechamel sauce since it will take a while for the water to come to a boil.) Add the pasta and bring back to a boil, stirring frequently so the pasta does not stick. Cook until just short of al dente. Depending on what shape of pasta you are using, the cooking time on the package will vary, so subtract about 2 minutes from the suggested cooking time. The pasta should feel almost fully cooked when you bite into it, but should still have a firm texture (it will finish cooking in the oven).
Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Pour in all but 1/2 cup of the bechamel sauce and mix well to coat all the pasta evenly. Add the sauteed zucchini and diced ham and mix to incorporate. Transfer the pasta mixture into the buttered baking dish and top with the reserved 1/2 cup of bechamel sauce and sprinkle with Parmigiano. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for about 30-35 minutes until heated through completely. Serve hot.
|Subscribe to RSS|