White Sauce

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A white sauce is just that – a sauce that’s white. It’s white because it’s made with milk, 1/2 & 1/2, or cream.

It was years before I dared make a white sauce; I assumed it was difficult for some reason. I remember calling up my mother and asking her how to make one, but she didn’t have an immediate answer, because cooking came so naturally to her. She simply added a little of this, and a little of that while cooking, and only followed recipes when making something completely new.

But she made a white sauce, just for me, and sent me the recipe. Trust me, after making a white sauce one time, you’ll never need a recipe again.

White Sauce, or Bechamel

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups of 1/2 & 1/2, or cream
(this recipe can be doubled)

Have all of your ingredients ready; the sauce will not take long. All you need is a pot and whisk.

I like to use Wondra instead of regular white flour for sauces and gravies.

Place the butter in the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the flour and immediately whisk it into the butter until smooth. This is called a roux. Some people make a roux that is almost like a paste, but I prefer mine slightly thinner.

Let the mixture bubble and cook for about 30 seconds, whisking often. The cooking supposedly keeps the sauce from having a “floury” taste, but I’ve never tested this theory.

With the whisk in one hand, pour in the milk with the other and begin gently whisking. Don’t add the milk gradually; pour it all in.

If the milk/cream is warm, the sauce will form sooner, but cold milk/cream works just as well.

Hold the pot now with one hand and gently whisk; you will notice the mixture thickening. You can even remove the pot from the stove if you think the sauce is cooking too fast.

A few bubbles might form, but don’t let the sauce boil. It’s better to take a little more time to whisk the sauce than allow it to burn and stick to the pot.

Once the sauce has thickened, remove the pot from the stove. You have just made a white sauce.

Now for the fun part. Think of what you can add to your white sauce to make it, well, different! What about adding fresh herbs, or pesto, or tomato paste, or paprika cream, or curry powder!

Today I’m being indulgent and treating myself to a breakfast of goddesses – poached eggs with a white sauce.


A white sauce will work with any milk substitute as well, from soymilk to coconut milk, to hemp milk, to goat milk. However, the color of the sauce will change with the milk color.

It will turn into a cheesy white sauce if you add cheddar, fontina, or Parmesan to it. Any cheese works.

Besides salt and pepper, you can also add white pepper, dried herbs, nutmeg, cayenne, or just about anything you like.

Lastly, a browned butter white sauce is really flavorful, but keep in mind that the white sauce color will be brownish.

For a more scientific approach to making a white sauce, here is a link to Stefan’s white sauce on his blog, Stefan Gourmet.

Greek Pork and Beans

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We had quite the cold spell a while back, so I during it I felt the need to make a one-pot, stick-to-your-ribs kind of stew. And what better cuisine from which to choose than Greek. It’s often the direction I take for satisfying and comforting dishes, like pastitsio and moussaka.

For these times, I refer to an old cookbook, called Flavors of Greece, published in 1991, and authored by Rosemary Barron. And in it I found exactly what I was looking for – a Greek version of pork and beans.

The beans in this dish are giant white Lima beans, and the meat includes pork shoulder, bacon, and sausage.

The bean and pork components are layered, then topped with a thick bread crumb and Parmesan crust. Oddly enough, it reminds me of a giant cassoulet!

Here’s the recipe.

Traditional Pork and Bean Casserole
Khirino´ Khoria´tiko

1 1/2 pounds dried butter beans, soaked overnight
3 pounds boneless lean pork shoulder
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced pastourma´s ham or bacon
3 cups chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup red wine
2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, diced, juices reserved
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup dried oregano
2 tablespoons ground coriander
5 whole cloves
4 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 – 1 1/2 cups meat stock
1/2 country sausages
1 cup fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup kasse´ri cheese or Parmesan

Cook and drain the soaked beans. I cooked mine in chicken stock. Set aside.

Cut the pork into 1” cubes. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet and lightly brown half the meat over medium heat. Repeat with the remaining meat.



Add the bacon and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, cook 1 minute longer, and add the red wine. Bring to a boil and boil a minute or two, then stir in the tomatoes with their juices, honey, oregano, coriander, cloves, juniper berries, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add 1 cup of the stock and simmer 5 minutes longer.

Add the meat, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer 30 minutes longer; add stock if there appears to be less than 2 cups of sauce. Season to taste. The sauce should be highly flavored.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Slice the sausages into 1/2” thick slices and combine with the beans.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the bottom of a heavy casserole and cover with one third of the sausages and beans. Cover with a layer of half the meat mixture, then half the remaining beans, then the remaining meat. Top with a layer of the remaining beans.

With the back of a wooden spoon, gently press down on the beans so some of the sauce rises to the surface.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs and cheese on top.

Sprinkle with the remaining olive oil, cover, and bake 45 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake 1 1/2 hours longer, until a golden crust has formed.

Remove the casserole lid and bake 10 minutes, or until the crust is deep golden brown.

I let the casserole sit for at least 45 minutes, without the lid, before serving.

Even though I used a large/wide Le Creuset for this casserole, it was so thick I wasn’t sure how to serve it up!


For the sake of this post, I cut out a square so the layers would show.

The casserole is quite stunning. And the flavors are just what you’d expect. Tomatoes, herbs, meat – a lovely, rustic meal.

And the meat is extremely tender.

Note: The recipe also included dried marjoram and winter savory — neither of which I had.

Pastitsio

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My introduction to Greek cuisine began with the set of cookbooks that introduced me to many International cuisines – the Time-Life series of cookbooks called “Foods of the World.” Included in the set are beautifully photographed hardback books describing the cuisines and cultures, as well as smaller, spiral-bound recipe books.

The set was gifted to me by mother, because she owned and loved hers. They were also my first cookbooks, so as I learned how to cook, I also learned about various cuisines. Had I known better, I might have been intimidated, but I just jumped in and started cooking.

One week I’d make meals from the Ethiopian cookbook, the next week Japan, the next Italy, and so forth. One of the cookbooks was “Middle Eastern Cooking,” which included foods from Greece as well as Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and other countries from that part of the world.

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Over the years I made moussaka, chicken baked in red sauce with cinnamon, grilled pork kabobs smothered in oregano, and many more lovely recipes. But one that I really loved was Pastitsio. To me it was way more fun than moussaka.

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When I first made it, my husband loved it. But over the 30-plus years that I’ve been cooking, he’s somehow decided that he hates lamb. It’s just not the same with beef, so I’m using a 50-50 mixture. Who knows, in a future post, I might be writing from my own apartment…

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Pastitsio

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 pound ziti
7 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 1/2 pound lean ground lamb
2 cups chopped, drained, canned tomatoes
1 cup canned tomato purée
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon oregano crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Black pepper
1/2 cup soft, fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Kefalotiri or Parmesan

In a large pot bring 6-8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over high heat and drop in the ziti. Stirring occasionally, cook the pasta for 10-15 minutes, or until soft but still somewhat resistant to the bite. Immediately drain the pasta and set aside.
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Meanwhile, prepare the lamb and the cream sauce. In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook for 5 minutes, or until they are soft and transparent but not brown.

Add the lamb and, mashing it frequently with the back of spoon or fork to break up any lumps, cook until all traces of pink disappear.


Stir in the tomatoes, purée, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the beaten egg, and set aside.


Sauce:
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
6 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour

To make the cream sauce, combine 3 cups of milk and the butter in a small pan until bubbles appear around the rim of the pan. Remove from the heat. In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan, beat the eggs with a whisk until they are frothy.

Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of salt and, beating constantly, add the flour, a tablespoon at a time.


Stirring constantly, slowly pour in the heated milk and butter mixture in a thin stream and, still stirring, bring to a boil over moderate heat. Continue to boil until the sauce is thick and smooth; set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. With a pastry brush coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 15 x 2 1/2″ baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom with the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and spread half of the reserved pasta on top.


Cover with the meat, smoothing it into the corners with a spatula.
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Then pour 2 cups of the cream sauce evenly on top. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese.
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Make another layer with the remaining ziti, pour over it the rest of the cream sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.


Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is a delicate golden brown.

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If you love moussaka, you’ll definitely love pastitsio. It’s the love red meat sauce, slightly sweetened with cinnamon, layered on noodles, and topped with a rich, cheesy cream sauce that makes it the ultimate in comfort food, Greek style!
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