Although widely recognized by its French name, bechamel, this sauce has been known in Italy as besciamella (or balsamella or bechimella) for centuries. The sauce functions as a binding element in many pasta and vegetable dishes. It is also used as a topping in baked dishes—most notably lasagne and cannelloni—to prevent them from drying out.

Yield: makes 2 cups


  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 4 tbsp. sifted flour
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk for 1½ minutes (do not allow to brown).
  2. Gradually add hot milk, whisking constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until sauce is the consistency of thick cream, about 15 minutes.