makes about 4 cups

One of the building blocks of Northern Italian cooking is balsamella, the elegant white sauce used in making classic dishes like lasagne and cannelloni. It’s a simple white sauce (béchamel in France) that needs a certain amount of finesse to keep the butter from browning and the roux from taking on any color whatsoever.

8 tablespoons butter
½ cup flour
4 cups hot whole milk
½ cup grated parmigiano-reggiano, optional
¼ whole nutmeg, finely grated


Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook for 1½–2 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent it from taking on any color. Gradually add the hot milk in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent lumps.

Increase the heat to medium and cook the sauce, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it has the consistency of thick cream, 10–15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the cheese, if using, and season with nutmeg and salt to taste. Strain the sauce if it’s lumpy. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the balsamella to keep it warm until ready to use and to prevent a skin from forming.


[ you can find this recipe in Canal House Cooking Volume N° 7, La Dolce Vita ]