In Italian, it is besciamella or basamella. In English, we usually refer to it as béchamel, the French word for it. We usually associate it with France, where it finds its origins. But as with most things related to foods, there is some disagreement.
One theory says it originated in Italy and came to France via the chefs of Queen Catherine de’ Medici. It has also been said it was later re-introduced to Italy from France. We have no idea whether there is any truth to any of that but one historical aspect of besciamella that rings with accuracy is that it was largely a sauce used by royalty because most people didn’t have refrigeration until the last century.
We also found one web site that mentions this little tidbit about besciamella: “It is never used alone, and Italian béchamel doesn’t have the clove that is considered the staple of the recipe by French authority (Auguste) Escoffier.” (You’ll notice our recipe below does not call for a clove.) Regardless of the history of besciamella or basamella, it is used in Italian cooking, particularly in baked dishes.
Ours is a simple sauce to make. However, a simple sauce can be tricky because the secret is in the attention and patience.
Basamella / Besciamella
Pull and measure all ingredients before starting
Patience is in the sauce – don’t rush this and stay at the stove stirring
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup flour
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 1 cup milk
- salt and white pepper
- (Optional ingredients: chopped garlic / grated parmesan cheese / grated nutmeg)
- In a saucepan over medium heat melt butter (add chopped garlic if desired)
- Add flour and stir with a whisk until smooth and golden brown (5 – 6 minutes)
- In a separate pot, add milk and almost bring to a boil
- Add milk to butter mixture 1 cup at a time (add grated cheese if desired)
- Whisk continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil
- Cook 30 seconds and remove from heat. Season with salt and white pepper
- Decant into a container, let cool, cover and then refrigerate
(add grated nutmeg if desired and set aside until ready to use)