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Was Bechamelle Really French, or an Ancient Florentine Sauce?

by Ippolita Douglas Scotti:

There is an ancient fight between Italian and French cuisine. Both countries claim exclusive rights on several recipes within traditional cooking. According to French culture, the inventor of the sauce "béchamelle" was the Marquis Louis de Béchamel, maître at the court of Versailles. In the seventeenth century, he was the first to use béchamel in his recipes.

In Italian culture, the origin of the béchamel recipe is . . . you guessed it . . . Tuscan. In Italy, béchamel is called salsa colla ("glue sauce"). It is used in cooking as a binder for many preparations.

The first appearance of the béchamel sauce dates back to 1651 in the recipe book Le Cusinier,a text considered to be the foundation of French cuisine. According to Italian culture, this sauce arrived in France thanks to the queen's consort, Caterina de Medici.

Here is the basic recipe:

Béchamel sauce:

4 cups of milk

A pinch of nutmeg

1 cup of flour

Salt and pepper

¼ cup butter

1 tbs grated Parmesan

Heat the milk into a little pot until hot —it does not have to reach the boiling point.

In another pot, melt the butter. When melted, turn off the flame and add the flour, mixing continuously with a whip. Continuously stir the mixture over a very low flame until it reaches a pale, golden hue. This method is called "making the roux."

Once the roux is ready, add the milk and mix it with a whip to avoid the formation of lumps.

Add a pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper, and sprinkle with a pinch of nutmeg. Let it thicken over a low flame for 5 minutes—don’t burn it! The sauce should still be liquid and not too thick.

This delicious, delicate sauce is perfect for many recipes; it is fundamental for lasagne and for many gratinated vegetable recipes. Speaking of vegetables . . .

It is cauliflower season in Italy! This wonderful vegetable has an unique, creamy texture, and it’s taste has personality. A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, it is packed with a rich supply of nutrients—a great source of vitamin C, folate, and a good source of fiber and vitamin K. It is also rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants that neutralize free radicals in your body and prevent diseases and fight oxidative stress.

The name "cauliflower" comes from the Latin caulis (stalk) and floris (flower), meaning "cabbage flower." It came from Turkey and gained popularity in France in the 1500s. It was subsequently cultivated in Northern Europe and Britain and then in America.

The only little defect of cauliflower, as with other cabbages like broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts, is the bad smell that spreads through the house while cooking it. This funny smell is caused by high levels of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates. Shorter cooking times can minimize the pungent aroma. A little trick is to cook it on a steamer, adding baking soda to the water. Baking soda reacts with the acid of cauliflower and neutralizes the smell—though only a little!

A perfect way to highlight cauliflower and to cook a tasty dish is combining it with béchamel! Here the recipe:

Cauliflower with Béchamelle



1 large cauliflower

4 cups (1liter) béchamel sauce

A dollop of butter

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan

1/2 cup milk

Salt & Pepper


Preheat the oven at 400°F ( 200 °C).

Clean the cauliflower and separate the florets. Steam the florets until slightly tender.

In the meantime, cook the béchamel (recipe above).

Place the steamed cauliflower florets in an oven-proof casserole dish and dot with little pieces of butter. Sprinkle with nutmeg and salt and pepper. Pour in the milk and béchamel. Lightly toss to mix. Sprinkle Parmesan on top and cook until it makes a golden crust.

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