When one thinks about bechamel sauce, the first thing that comes into mind is lasagna. Well, at least it’s the first thing that comes into MY mind. Ha! But bechamel sauce is a versatile and easy to use binding sauce for other dishes than lasagna. For example, I like it in pastries with tomato sauce, cheese and ham to add extra creaminess, in pasta bakes as well as in vegetable ones like the one I cooked the other day and that you’re going to find in the following recipe. Bechamel is very nice seasoned as well, with herbs, spices, or with cheese. Having a very mild taste, a winning coupling is with strong cheeses like, for example, Stilton or blue cheese.
This recipe is just a starting point really, if you have different vegetables don’t be afraid to experiment and add new textures and flavours! As always, I generally cook with what I have at home (unless I’m cooking with a purpose, generally if I have friends over for dinner) so there is plenty of space for new versions!
INGREDIENTS (serves 4)
- 6 medium baby potatoes, sliced
- 1 big courgette, sliced
- 1 can sliced Champignon mushrooms, drained
- 1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
- 100g smoked bacon chunks
- 1 thyme & shallot seasoning cube (see how to prepare it here)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 30g parmesan cheese, grated
For the bechamel sauce
- 50g unsalted butter
- 4 heaped tbsp plain white flour
- 500ml milk
- 1 pinch of salt
- grated nutmeg to taste
- 50-60g Stilton, crumbled
Cut the potatoes and the courgette into 5mm thick slices and steam them for 15 minutes until softened. If the artichoke hearts are quite big, cut in half each quarter in order to have thinner slices. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil, add the bacon chunks and fry until golden and crispy. Add the mushrooms, the artichokes and the seasoning cube, and cook for further 5-10 minutes until the liquids are evaporated.
In a saucepan, melt the butter on very low heat (the butter does not have to fry), then add the flour, whisking very well to avoid lumps. Don’t worry if the paste you obtain seems very grainy, it’ll dissolve when you add the milk. Always on low heat, gradually add the milk (preferably at room temperature or even lukewarm) whisking continuously until you obtain a smooth cream. To be sure the bechamel is ready, it has to stick to the back of a spoon but still be quite runny. If it is too thick, just add some extra milk. But DON’T add extra flour if it’s too liquid, just wait whisking a little bit more, it’ll thicken up. If you add extra flour it will taste too much as raw bread, and you will get a sandy texture.
Once the sauce is ready, season with the pinch of salt and some nutmeg according to your taste, then add the crumbled Stilton and mix until the cheese is blended.
Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC fan. In a baking tin, add a scoop of sauce then top it with the sliced courgettes, being careful to cover the whole bottom (just cut some slices according to the space you have to fill). Add the mushroom, artichoke and bacon mixture and cover everything with the potato slices. Pour over the Stilton bechamel making sure everything is covered, and sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the surface is golden-brown and crispy, take out of the oven and leave to set for 10-15 minutes before serving.