Thursday, September 22, 2011

The French Way........

When I decided I wanted to cook for a living, I knew I had to master some very important things….and my number one mission was sauces. I spent years learning the art of Northern Italian cooking, but not until I had mastered the art of French sauces.

I took Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to the kitchen and started cooking. It wasn’t like Julie and Julia….far from it! It was me spending a great deal driving back and forth between home and the grocery store….I must have gone through a thousand pounds of butter! I started studying everything I could find on French sauces. You need to realize this was a long time before Al Gore invented the internet! It was all at the library.

 In the 19th century, the chef Antonin Carême classified sauces into four families, each of which was based on a mother sauce (also called grandes sauces). Carême's four mother sauces were:

• Béchamel, based on milk, thickened with a white roux.

• Espagnole, based on brown stock (usually veal), thickened with a brown roux.

• Velouté, based on a white stock, thickened with a blonde roux.

• Allemande, based on velouté sauce, is thickened with egg yolks and heavy cream.

In the early 20th century, the chef Auguste Escoffier updated this classification to five mother sauces. They are:

Sauce Béchamel, milk based sauce, thickened with a white roux.
Sauce Velouté, white stock based sauce, thickened with a roux or a liaison.
Sauce Tomate, tomato based sauce, thickened with a roux.
Sauce Espagnole, a fortified brown veal stock sauce.
Sauce Hollandaise, an emulsion of egg yolk, butter and lemon juice. (traditionally a reduction of pepper corns white vinegar and a bay leaf is used in place of lemon juice)

These 5 sauces are the base for many other sauces, referred to as “small sauces”,simply by incorporating additional ingredients. Bechamel can become Mornay Sauce with the addition of cheese, traditionally Gruyere.

With so many people watching their weight and what they eat, sauces and gravies are far less important today. Sad, but true. But I think everyone who cooks should know how to make the 5 mother sauces. You won’t make them every day, not even weekly. But there are special occasions, holidays that simply call for a more elaborate menu. A sauce can make an ordinary plate of food an exciting meal!

So, here it is, almost Fall. Cooler weather is here, you are thinking about warm, satisfying food and looking forward to being back in the kitchen. Now is the time to develop your sauces! Today I am going to cover Bechamel. I hope you decide to try your hand at sauces….they are amazing.

Bechamel….it used to be prepared in most homes on a regular basis, only we called it “White Sauce”  Have you every tasted a spoonful of Bechamel? I think it is heavenly. With just a small amount of freshly grated nutmeg (none of that stuff in the spice shaker….I’m talking about you grating a dash from a whole nutmeg). If you haven’t, you simply must.

Here is the basic recipe, makes approximately 4 cups of sauce.

Bechamel Sauce
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour until it forms a smooth paste. Continue whisking, cook for about 2 minutes, and then gradually – 1/3 cup at a time - add the milk. Continue whisking and cook until the sauce is completely heated through, smooth, and thickened. Remove from the heat and season with the salt and nutmeg.
So, now that you have made the basic sauce, what do you do with it?

Let’s make Mornay Sauce….

Mornay Sauce is a classic cheese sauce made by enriching a standard Bechamel wiith Gruyère and Parmesan cheese.

Mornay is an ideal accompaniment for vegetables, pasta or fish. The Cheeses can be switched for Cheddar and it is the perfect cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese! It is one way to get the kids (and many adults!) to eat the dreaded broccoli! Here are the directions:

Mornay  Sauce
1 quart prepared Beshamel Sauce
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
½ tsp mustard powder
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
½ cup whole milk, hot

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the Béchamel to a simmer. Add the cheddar cheese and mustard powder and stir until the cheese has melted. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce. Remove from heat and adjust consistency with the hot milk if necessary. Serve right away.

Makes about 1 quart of Cheddar Cheese Sauce.

Here is my favorite Lasagna recipe….it is Bobby Flay’s. It is long and worth every extra ingredient and moment of your time. The Bechamel has cheese, making it a Mornay Sauce. I hope you love it!

                                 Bobby Flay’s Lasagna

Bolognese Sauce:
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds pork shanks (on the bone)
3 pounds beef shanks (on the bone)
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound pancetta, finely diced
1 1/2 cups finely diced Spanish onion
1/2 cup finely diced carrot
1/2 cup finely diced celery
4 whole garlic cloves
1 cup dry red wine
3 cups homemade beef or chicken stock
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes and their juices
4 fresh thyme sprigs
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1 cup tomato sauce, recipe follows
Chopped fresh parsley leaves
Chopped fresh basil leaves

Ricotta Mixture:
3 cups ricotta, strained in a cheesecloth lined strainer for at least 4 hours
2 large eggs
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper

Tomato Sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

Bechamel (Mornay) Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 to 2 1/2 cups whole milk, heated
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Bechamel Sauce
4 fresh sheets pasta, cooked for 2 to 3 minutes in boiling, salted water, drained or 1 pound lasagna noodles (cooked in boiling, salted water until slightly under al dente, about 5 minutes)
Ricotta mixture
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Fresh basil leaves
Bolognese Sauce

For the Bolognese Sauce:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat.
Season the shanks on both sides with salt and pepper, place in the pan and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side.
Remove the shanks to a plate. Remove fat from the pan. Add the pancetta to the pan and cook until golden brown. Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.
Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic to the pan and cook until soft and lightly golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the red wine, scrape the bottom of the pan and cook until completely reduced. Add the beef stock, diced tomatoes, thyme, rosemary and parsley and bring to a simmer. Add the shanks and 1/3 of the pancetta back to the pan, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is tender and falling off the bone, about 2 hours.

Remove the shanks to a cutting board and when cool enough to handle, shred the meat into bite-size pieces and place in a bowl.

Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl. Place 3 cups of the cooking liquid into a large high-sided saute pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the liquid is reduced to about 3/4 cup. Add the shredded meat and the remaining cooked pancetta to the pan along with 1 cup of the tomato sauce, parsley and basil and stir to combine and just heat through.

For the Ricotta Mixture:

Stir together the ricotta, eggs, parsley, basil, cheese and salt and pepper in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.

For the Tomato Sauce:

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add the onions and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and red chili flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, bring to boil, season with salt and pepper and cook until the sauce is reduced and thickened, about 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the parsley and basil.

For the Bechamel (Mornay) Sauce:

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and let cook for about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in 2 cups of the hot milk and continue whisking until the sauce is thickened and loses its raw flavor, about 5 to 7 minutes. Season the sauce with nutmeg, salt and pepper and whisk in the cheeses. If the sauce is too thick, whisk in some of the remaining milk.

For Assembly:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with the butter. Ladle a thin layer of bechamel evenly over the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of pasta dough, cut to fit the inside of the pan on top of the bechamel and top the pasta with the ricotta mixture and spread evenly. Spread a thin layer of bechamel over the ricotta, sprinkle with a few tablespoons of Parmesan and some basil leaves. Top with another layer of pasta and spread the meat mixture evenly over the top. Ladle an even layer of bechamel over the Bolognese mixture, sprinkle with a few tablespoons of Parmesan and some basil leaves. Place the final layer of pasta dough over the meat mixture and ladle the bechamel over the top to completely cover the pasta and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of Parmesan.

Place the pan on a baking sheet and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F, remove the foil and continue baking until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 25 to 35 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes before cutting. Cut into slices and top with some of the tomato sauce, more grated cheese and chopped parsley and basil.

See what I mean?  LONG! And HEAVENLY!

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