Sometimes there's nothing like simple, basic childhood favorites. In my family we all tease my sister about her childhood roux obsession and how when she was a pre-teen she spent lot of hours at the stove making bechamel, casseroles, and cream puffs—anything that required a butter-flour paste.
I share her roux obsession and, even more, love béchamel (white) sauce. It's my casserole staple: pasta + béchamel +/- protein + cheese means you "can't hardly" miss making something gorgeous.
I eyeball my roux. Consult a recipe (I learned from Joy of Cooking) to learn the technique if you need, but I make it thusly:
- 1 stick butter (melt until foamy)
- 1/2 cup flour (add to butter, stir, cook several minutes to eliminate the raw flour taste)
- enough milk to make the sauce the consistency I want (anywhere from 2-4 cups)
- a grating of nutmeg (I used to go the clove-studded onion route, but I like nutmeg in my bechamel a little better)
When making tuna casserole, I saute onion and celery in the butter then add the flour and milk. Yes, the bechamel is lumpy because of the veggies, but in a casserole it doesn't matter. Then I combine the sauce with one can of olive-oil-packed Italian tuna and mix well. The tuna-embellished sauce is then combined with one box of cooked (very al dente) elbow macaroni (or other short pasta), and a couple of handfuls of frozen peas if I have them on hand. A grating of pecorino romano over the top is all I need, but you could do buttered breadcrumbs or a combination of buttered breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Bake for 30 minutes at 350º (or until lightly browned on top) and dig in.
The recipe led my four-year-old to declare: "This is the most delicious pasta ever!"
[photo: Stefania Pomponi Butler]