Maccheroni al Forno

Béchamel and mornay sauces fall into the white sauce category. Mastering both of these sauces opens up a wide and wonderful world of flavors that you can use to enhance pasta and pizza creations. But first some background information is in order.

Food historians are pretty much in agreement that the original white sauce, known as balsamella, originated in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. In fact, the classic lasagna from Bologna demands that a balsamella sauce be part of the recipe.

Here are the bases recipe for a béchamel (balsamella) sauce, a Mornay sauce, and several variations on each of those. You will soon find out the many creative possibilities that come from these two sauces. 

Important tips: The secret to a good béchamel sauce is the roux, or the cooking and blending of the flour and butter. Also, the thickness or thinness of the sauce is determined by the amount of milk used, and the amount of cooking time.

Béchamel Sauce

(Makes about 2 1/2 cups)

1 tablespoon finely chopped onion

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. In a heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat, cook the onion with the butter just until the onions are softened. Stir in the flour. Cook and stir the roux for about 3 minutes.

2. Add the milk in a steady stream, whisking steadily until the sauce smooths out. Add the salt. Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes, or until it is thickened to the consistency you desire.

Sauce can be kept for several days, refrigerated. Cover the surface with a buttered round of parchment paper to prevent a skim from forming.

Mornay Sauce

Generally speaking, a Mornay sauce is made by simply adding some type of cheese to a béchamel sauce. In a more luxurious and richer interpretation, the following recipe will serve you well.

1 cup béchamel sauce

1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Heavy cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Heat the béchamel until it simmers. Turn the heat to low. Stir in the Gruyere and then the Parmesan.

2. Thin the sauce to the consistency desired by using the heavy cream. Off the heat and swirl in the butter.

Now for some ideas on how to use these two sauces. Macaroni and cheese is a hot food trend, so jump on the trend train with this delicious recipe.

Maccheroni al Forno (Baked Macaroni & Cheese)

Makes 6 to 8 servings

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

4 cups milk

1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 pound cavatappi or rotini pasta

1/4 pound shredded provolone cheese (about 1 cup)

1/4 pound grated Asiago cheese (about 1 cup)

1/4 pound shredded mozzarella (about 1 cup)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1. Make the bechamel sauce. In a heavy saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes. Add the milk in a steady stream, whisking steadily, and bring the sauce to a boil. Add the mustard, cayenne, and salt and whisk to combine. Whisking the sauce, simmer until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

2. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water. When it is al dente, drain it well. Set aside. Butter a 4-quart baking pan.

3. In a large mixing bowl, stir and combine the béchamel sauce, the pasta, provolone, asiago, and mozzarella. Transfer the mixture to the buttered baking pan. Smooth off the top.

4. In a small mixing bowl, combine the Parmesan, bread crumbs, and oregano. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the pasta. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

Note: The recipe can be made ahead up to the point of baking. Cover and refigerate. Bake as needed.

Bruno’s Brunch Pizza

Makes one 12-inch pizza

This is a great-tasting breakfast or brunch pizza. The béchamel sauce can be made ahead, or simply use about 1 cup of the béchamel or mornay sauce from the base recipe.

Béchamel Sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup milk

1/8 teaspoon salt

The Rest

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 12-inch pizza shell

4 3-inch-diameter slices Canadian bacon

1/2 pound mild cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

1. Make the béchamel sauce following the steps in the base recipe. Set aside.

2. In a small non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat until it just starts to foam. Stir in the eggs and scramble just until the eggs are set. Set aside.

3. Spread the béchamel sauce evenly over the pizza shell up to the border (leave about 1/4 inch of border). Arrange the Canadian bacon slices evenly over the pizza.

Spread the eggs evenly over the bacon. Sprinkle on the cheese. Bake.

OTHER IDEAS

• Use either the béchamel sauce or the mornay sauce to make a white pizza. Spread either sauce over a pizza shell. Top the sauce with grilled vegetables and bake. 

• Also, fresh spinach that has been sautéed in garlic and olive oil (that would be the prep) work well on a pie featuring béchamel sauce. Make sure that the spinach is not too oily, though. Chop the spinach, then sprinkle it over the sauce. Finish the pizza off with a shower of grated Parmesan before sending it through the oven.

• Seafood, such as grilled or cooked shrimp, works fine with a béchamel sauce, since one of the offshoots of a béchamel is a sauce Nantua. By thinning out the basic béchamel sauce with clam juice, for example, you have a version of sauce Nantua. This approach gives the sauce and the overall goodness of the pizza a good kick in the flavor. 

• The flavor profile of the béchamel sauce can be increased by simmering chopped onion in lightly salted water for about 8 minutes. Drain. Saute the onion in butter. Now puree the onion/butter mixture. Then incorporate it into the béchamel sauce. This is a modified sauce soubise, and would work particularly well with a veggie pizza.

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