Broccoli Penne Bechamel Bake

by Heather on August 27, 2010

You guys, the response to Faces of Beauty so far has been OVERWHELMING! I’m so amazed at y’alls stories and beautiful pictures, but even more so your hearts in wanting to help inspire others has rocked me to my core. Be sure to check out Gillian’s post today!

I think it should be obvious from yesterday’s post that I really do love butter.  I can’t believe that I spent all of those years hiding from it!  Let’s make up for lost time, shall we?

Now, let’s talk bechamel.  It’s one of the 4 grandes sauces and is used in French cooking specifically, but has variations all over the world.  Something I really like to use it in is lasagna rather than ricotta sometimes.  It’s this amazing, velvety, creamy, thick concoction that’s spiced with nutmeg and will probably make your eyes roll back in your head.  Probably.

The best recipe I’ve found is actually Mario Batali’s traditional bechamel.  Sometimes you just can’t update a classic, and I’m not going to challenge and Iron Chef!

MARIO BATALI’S BECHAMEL SAUCE

  • 5 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

First things first, you have to melt the butter.  I recommend doing this over extremely low heat because if you burn the bechamel…well, let’s just say don’t!

While the butter is melting, boil some pasta.  I did a 1/2 pound of penne, but you could really use any kind you like.  The important thing is to only cook it for 2/3 of the time the box recommends.  You’ll be tossing it in the sauce and then baking, and no one likes mushy pasta.  Drain and set aside when it’s ALMOST al dente and you’ll be good to go!

Once the butter is melted add the flour.  You’ll want to have a whisk nearby to start stirring!  I have yet to meet anyone who really likes burned stuff, and like I said:  don’t burn the bechamel!

Oh Lord help me. Is it wrong to want to jump into a pool of perfectly cooked roux?

So yes…stir, stir, stir your little heart out.  But make sure you take a break to measure out your milk.  You’re going to need it after about 5-6 minutes of cooking the roux!

Might as well get your nutmeg handy as well!  Nutmeg is a super strong flavor, but I have come to adore it in bechamel and savory dishes.  It’s life-changing.

Once the roux starts to darken, pour in the milk and whisk it until thoroughly combined.  You’ll be getting a steam facial while you do this…don’t get scared, that’s totally supposed to happen.  Nothing wrong in combining self care and cooking, right?!

This is when you can finally take a little break with the stirring.  You’ll still need to do it every minute or so, but you gotta leave it alone and let it thicken up!  At first you’ll start seeing bubbles around the edges like the photo above, but very soon you’ll see the bubbles in the middle and the mixture will very clearly be thickening up!

It’s like magic, right?

Just wait til you taste it.

The bechamel is ready to go when you can stick a spoon in there and it coats the back of it.  You can still cook it down even further if need be, but this is the right thickness for the bake that we’re making today!

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the salt and the nutmeg.  Oh the nutmeg!

Fold in the 2 lbs frozen broccoli and the pasta (measurements for both are at the bottom of this post):

Then dump it all into a pan and sprinkle with cheese (parmesan’s the best in my opinion, although I actually used mozzarella last night) and top with fresh cracked pepper.  Cover the pan with foil.  Bake at 450 for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 5-10 minutes until the cheese on top is bubbly and brown.

What comes out of the oven at that point is the most magical, drool-worthy pasta/veggie bake you could imagine.

We served it with a simple chicken breast (cooked in salt, pepper, and 1 tsp olive oil).  When you have something truly amazing like this you only need a simple chicken side dish to go along with it :)

BROCCOLI PENNE BECHAMEL BAKE

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Happy Friday everyone!

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