Besciamella, a classic white sauce (known as bechamel in French), consists of flour, butter, milk, salt and a pinch of nutmeg and is widely used in Italian cooking. This smooth and creamy, medium-thick sauce is used in dishes such as, vegetable gratins, cannelloni and lasagna.
The secret to a perfect white sauce is three-fold; after making the roux (butter and flour mixture) and before adding the milk, remove the saucepan from the heat, always warm the milk before gradually adding it to the roux and lastly, never stop stirring! This method has never failed me, resulting in velvety-smooth sauce with absolutely no lumps.
The filling can be made the day before, leaving only the making of the besciamella, cooking the noodles and assembling of the lasagna.
- 2 pounds baby spinach, washed and dry
- Extra-virgin olive oil for sauteing
- 4 cups ricotta
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, plus 2 tablespoons for top of lasagna
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 pound box lasagna noodles
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, unsalted
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
- 12 ounces fontina cheese, grated
- Using a large saute pan, heat a very small amount of olive oil and cook the spinach just until wilted. Cook in batches using only enough oil to keep the spinach from sticking to the pan. Season each batch with salt and pepper and transfer to a large bowl.
- When all the spinach is cooked, taste and add more salt and/or pepper if necessary.
- Stir the ricotta and Parmesan cheese into the spinach and taste again for seasoning. Now add the beaten egg and mix thoroughly. If making the filling the day before, store in the refrigerator until ready to use. When you are ready to make the lasagna, remove filling from refrigerator and set on the counter to warm up a bit (makes it easier to spread over the noodles).
- In a large pot, cook the lasagna noodles with the salt. Drain and place in a single layer on a clean dish towel or paper towels.
- Time to make the besciamella. Using a small saucepan, heat the milk just to the verge of boiling (until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan).
- Using a heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the butter over low heat until melted and then add the flour all at once and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Cook 2 minutes, being careful to not let it become colored. Remove from heat.
- Add 2 tablespoons of the hot milk to the butter and flour mixture (roux), stirring constantly. When the milk is thoroughly incorporated, add 2 more tablespoons of milk. Now, stir in 2 more tablespoons. At this point, the mixture should be smooth, and you can add the milk in 1/2 cup increments as you continue to stir, until all the milk has been used.
- Place the saucepan back on the burner on medium heat and add the salt. Continue stirring as the sauce cooks. The mixture will eventually thicken. When the sauce coats the back of the spoon and looks like thick cream it is ready. Stir in the nutmeg.
- Use a buttered 9 x 13-inch ovenproof baking dish to assemble the lasagna. Place a single layer of noodles (overlapping slightly) on the bottom of the dish and then evenly spread some of the spinach-ricotta filling on top. Spoon some of the besciamella over the filling and top with a portion of the fontina cheese. Repeat the process (noodles, filling, sauce, fontina) until you’ve used all the noodles and filling and ending with a final layer of lasagna noodles. Scatter the last of the grated fontina cheese and a sprinkling of the 2 tablespoons of Parmesan on top and then drizzle the last of the besciamella over the lasagna. Bake in a 400* oven for approximately 45 minutes until the top is a golden brown.