The therapeutic properties of a simple white sauce are indescribable. There are just no words that will put into perspective how good it feels. And yet, so many of us don’t indulge in this type of therapy. In fact, for years, I wouldn’t dare touch any white, velvety, creamy sauce in excess and when I did, accidentally, fall into its grasp, I would be overcome with guilt, which far outweighed the sauce’s benefits.
However, I have since changed my mind. Why? First of all, because I love it. Very few people can resist a comforting white sauce on anything. And those who resist do so because of the belief that ingestion of this sauce will bring forth other enemies. That brings me to my next reason for a change of heart… béchamel is really not as fatty and cream laden as we believe. It’s made of milk, thickened with a roux of fat and flour, and then flavored.
So for those of us that love our venti lattes and caramel frappucinos, this sauce is really a walk in the park. And just as that daily java or occasional coffee indulgence gives us a few moments of peace and serenity, so can a plate of perfectly cooked pasta in white sauce or a portion of seasonal vegetable baked in white goodness.
I am certainly not advocating excess of anything, whether it be creative coffee drinks or meals with white sauce. But what I am suggesting is that this versatile and comforting sauce can be welcomed into your life in the easiest and most unobtrusive way… by using pantry ingredients.
The great thing about béchamel is that you can use it to make any variety of sauces for pasta, lasagna, veggies. In this case, I made 2 veggie gratins, but you could also combine all the ingredients that I used into 1 dish for the ultimate gratin. However, I made 2 seperate dishes for one simple reason... Onions rarely get to be the star of the show. They are always an aromatic, a flavoring, a complement. I love onions and made this gratin really to showcase how tasty and sweet they are.
Aubergine & Courgette Gratin
Serves 4 as side dish
1 medium Aubergine (about 3 cups), cut into about 1/2 cm slices
3 medium Courgettes (about 3 cups), cut into about 1/2 cm slices
2 cloves Garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 tbsp Olive Oil
2 cups béchamel sauce
In a large pan, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the vegetables and cook until the veggies just begin to soften. Remove from heat and remove the garlic halves.
Line the bottom of an oven proof dish with a layer of vegetables. Top with a layer of béchamel, and continue layering until all vegetables are used up and a layer of béchamel is on top. (At this point, you could add some grated gruyere or breadcrumbs on top, but really, I think the veggies and béchamel alone make a great side dish).
Bake at 190 degrees for 30 minutes until bubbly and brown on top.
Bacon, Onions & Garlic Gratin
Serves 2 as side dish
4slices thick bacon, diced
3 large onions, cut into chunks
1 clove Garlic, minced
1 ½ cups béchamel sauce
Heat a large pan over medium high heat. Add the bacon and let cook for about 2 minutes, until the fat melts and the bacon pieces begin to crisp. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are just tender.
Place the bacon mixture into an ovenproof dish. Add about two thirds of the béchamel, and toss together. Redistribute the mixture evenly in the dish. Top with the remaining béchamel.
Bake in 190 degree oven for 30 minutes until bubbly and brown on top
Makes about 3 1/2 cups of Béchamel
2 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Olive Oil
4 tbsp Flour
3 ½ cups Milk, Room Temperature
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
¼ tsp Nutmeg
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the flour and whisk together. This will form small clumps of flour/butter on the bottom of the pan. Do not be alarmed! Just keep stirring for about 2 minutes to cook the flour.
Add the milk (make sure it’s room temperature so that you don’t get clumps!), while whisking. Allow the sauce to come up to a bubble. This is when the sauce will reach it’s maximum thickness.
Stir in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. (Depending on what you are using the béchamel for, this is the point when you could add cheese, herbs or whatever other flavorings you like). For our purpose, we will use it classically… just like this.