Basil and Bechamel

Ligurian pesto is  considered by many to be the best in all of Italy  The temperate Mediterranean climate along the Ligurian Sea produces a classic Genovese basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese’) prized for its fragrant aroma and spiciness. The evocative flavor of an authentic well prepared Ligurian basil pesto screams Italy and makes a perfect ingredient to pair with pasta. In this case, thin sheets of lasagna pasta dough smeared with basil pesto and finished with a bubbly bechamel sauce.  

I learned to make this recipe from Enzo Malvicini. He was not a chef but the owner of harness race horses who had come to America to race at Balmoral Park in the late 1960’s. Enzo was a friend of our Nonna. He lived in Milan and when he wasn’t at the track he would come by to visit Nonna and to cook. Even the most infrequent of cooks in Italy can make a restaurant quality meal from scratch. This is the first time I had bechamel (besciamella) sauce rather than bolognese for lasagna. Although bechamel is thought to be French in origin, this refined sauce is said to have been brought to France by Caterina de Medici. When she became the Queen of France she bestowed on the sauce the name of  one of her courtiers, the Marquis Louis de Béchameil.

Watch  aristocratic chef Lorenza de Medici make bechamel . Then pair this mild creamy sauce with pesto for a summertime lasagna that will have your friends wondering at what Italian cooking school you’ve been studying.

for the bechamel:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • omit Parmigiano cheese in the sauce and use a directed below

You will need about 1 cup of pesto to 2 cups of bechamel to 2 cups grated Parmigiano cheese to  1/2 box of dry lasagna noodles (about 10 sheets) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter an 8×8  high rimmed pan and  lay a single layer of  parboiled lasagna noodles to cover the bottom of the pan, barely overlapping.  Spread 3-4 tablespoons of pesto evenly over noodles. Cover with a thin layer of  bechamel, a few pads of butter and a handful of  grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.Repeat the layers until you reach the top of the pan.  On top finish with a generous layer of  bechamel only, a few pads of butter and the rest of the cheese. Wrap tightly with a non-stick foil. Bake for one hour . Remove foil and bake for an additional  10 minutes more, until top is golden.  Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes before slicing.

Suggested Wine : Vermentino

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2 thoughts on “Basil and Bechamel

    1. Thanks for yor comment! I think that knowing a little of the gastro-history takes your cooking and eating to another level. Food traditions bring people to the table with a greater awareness of what they eat and that translates into a healthy satisfaction and appreciation of the land and hands that feeds us.

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