If there is one recipe that you have to know, it’s how to make a white sauce. The humble white sauce itself is incredibly versatile; whether you use it as a binding agent for something like fishcakes, a sauce base for pasta and pies or even as a topping for open sandwiches and gravies, you can see just how essential it is to your cooking.
The standard recipe calls for an equal quantity of fat, which is melted, and flour which is cooked out over the heat to remove that raw floury taste to create a roux. Cold milk is added in multiple additions so that as the sauce gradually becomes looser and the roux absorbs the milk, it becomes a sliky smooth sauce that is lump free. As the sauce begins to take shape, you can add more milk at a time. The traditional seasoning is nutmeg which really works in the white sauce. You might read some recipes that say to whisk the sauce constantly but I find that you can leave the hob for a few seconds without worrying about burning sauces.
And what’s more, you don’t have to stick to just milk. I always add some cream cheese to mine which adds silkiness and richness but you can also add some double cream to your white sauce or if you want a veloute, which is another one of the “mother sauces” of classical cookery, you can add stock instead, whether that’s fish, chicken or vegetable.
It’s perhaps not entirely classic to use the same pan that you cook bacon in to make the béchamel (the French for white sauce, it just sounds better) however I think it adds a lot of extra flavour and colour to the classic white sauce and it just saves on the extra washing up!
I’m using my white sauce in my Smoked Bacon and Broccoli Pasta which is a fantastically quick meal to make when you are looking for something warming and comforting. I can make it in 20 minutes from start to finish and this includes cooking the bacon, pasta, broccoli and the white sauce.
This recipe is enough for 2 servings so make more and keep it in the fridge for lunch the next day or a quick microwave dinner when you get home and you want something quick and easy.
140g dried pasta, such as penne or fusilli
2 rashers of smoked bacon
¼ a head of broccoli, florets cut off and cut into 1 inch pieces
30g plain flour
120 – 200ml whole milk
30g mature cheddar, chopped into cubes
30g cream cheese (or crème fraiche)
¼ tsp ground nutmeg, to season
White pepper, to season
In a frying pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil and fry the bacon until it is cooked through and browned well. Remove from the pan and drain the excess oil on kitchen paper. Then chop the bacon into strips. Do not clean the frying pan.
Fill a saucepan half full with boiling water and season well with salt. Add the dried pasta and cook according to packet instructions. When there are 6 minutes left of cooking, add in the broccoli florets and continue to cook.
Add in the margarine to the frying pan and melt. Once melted, add the plain flour and whisk until it forms a thick brown paste – this is the roux. Over the heat, add the milk in slowly, whisking between each addition until the milk has been incorporated and to prevent lumps forming. Continue to add enough milk until it forms a sauce which has a coating consistency and is thick; imagine pouring it over a chicken breast and it doesn’t run off.
At this stage, remove 50ml of the cooking water from the pasta pan and add it into the sauce along with the cheddar and cream cheese. Whisk until the cheese has melted and the sauce becomes silky. Add the nutmeg and adjust the seasoning accordingly.
Once the pasta is cooked – some like it al dente, I like it to be quite soft so I always cook mine a bit longer than I should! – drain it with the broccoli and add it all at once to the white sauce along with the bacon pieces. Stir to coat everything in the sauce and taste again for seasoning. Serve with garlic bread or it is just as good on its own.