“Bechamel” is a milk-based sauce that’s thickened with a roux of flour and butter – it’s a classic French sauce (considered one of the “mother” sauces) but it’s used often in many other cuisines, including Italian. This was the dish we had on cold, rainy days for dinner – it’s the ultimate comfort food.
Technically, once you add cheese to Bechamel, it becomes a “Mornay” sauce. Basically, this is a gourmet mac and cheese! I love to use Fontina cheese, because it’s so buttery and melts beautifully. You could certainly add your favorite cheese to this, too – gruyere or white cheddar, for example.
I add prosciutto to this as well, because it adds a fantastic flavor to each bite. You could absolutely add cooked bacon or pancetta, too.
Baked Bechamel Pasta
- 1 stick unsalted butter, 4 ounces
- 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 quart whole milk, at room temperature
- Pinch fresh nutmeg
- Sea salt and white pepper
- 1 cup grated fontina
- 1/2 pound thinly sliced prosciutto, julienned
- 1 pound dry short pasta, such as Gnochetti Napoletani
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- In a 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Always stirring, gradually add the milk and continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth and creamy. Simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. This will take approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg, 1/2 cup fontina, prosciutto and season with salt and white pepper. Set aside.
- In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water. Add the rigatoni and cook for about 5 minutes. Since you will be cooking the pasta a second time in the oven, you want to make sure the inside is still hard. Drain in a colander. Return pasta to the pot and pour in bechamel sauce. Using a wooden spoon, mix well until all the pasta is coated with the sauce.
- Into a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish, pour the pasta with cream sauce. Smooth out top and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup fontina. Dot the top with diced butter and bake in oven for 25 minutes or until bubbling and the top is golden brown.