This besciamella sauce recipe adds creaminess to your favorite classic Italian dishes or cheesy casseroles. It can be ready in just 15 minutes and freezes wonderfully too!
Besciamella sauce is a basic recipe from Italian cuisine. It consists of a dense white sauce made of milk, butter, and flour.
Besciamella is a key ingredient for many traditional Italian dishes such as lasagna, cannelloni, and casserole bakes because it adds a creamy and buttery kick to those dishes.
The recipe is really easy to make and it requires only a few staple ingredients. Ready in just 15 minutes this recipe is way better than any store-bought white sauce out there, so I am happy to share the recipe my Italian mamma taught me!
- Milk: As per tradition, use whole milk to achieve a rich texture.
- Unsalted butter: This ingredient adds creaminess and a delicious buttery flavor to the sauce.
- All-purpose flour: This is the thickener agent for a denser sauce.
- Nutmeg: A key ingredient that adds flavor, in Italy is called noce moscata.
- Seasonings: Salt and pepper to taste. You can use black or white pepper.
How to Make Besciamella Sauce
Place the butter in a saucepan and melt it over medium heat, stirring from time to time with a whisk.
Top Tip: It is important to moderate the heat to prevent the butter from burning, so allow the butter to melt little by little, when you see that it has become liquid and starts to bubble the butter is ready for the next step.
Add the flour while whisking vigorously so it won’t form too many lumps.
Keep whisking the mixture and allow to cook until the flour slightly turns into a golden color.
This mixture is called roux and is an important step. Flour needs to cook and absorb all the butter flavor. Nobody likes raw flour taste!
Next, pour in the milk little by little while stirring with the whisk to prevent the mixture from forming large lumps.
Next, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well to combine the flavors and start cooking the sauce.
Set the heat to medium-low and cook the creamy sauce for 10 minutes while stirring constantly.
The sauce is done when it has a thick texture that fully coats the back of a wooden spoon.
Turn off the heat and adjust the seasonings to taste. Don’t overdo it, as the besciamella sauce is famous for its delicate buttery-milky flavor with hints of nutmeg and pepper.
Your sauce is done. You can use it straight away on your recipe or store it for later. Read below my tips for storing this recipe.
Tips & Recipe Notes
- A little trick to prevent lumps when you add the flour is to do it using a fine flour sieve.
- Warm the milk before adding it to the roux. If the milk is cold, the contact with the hot roux will lead to large lumps.
- Sometimes lumps will form, no matter what. If this is the case, use an immersion blender to fix your sauce!
- Depending on the final recipe, you can adjust the besciamella consistency by adding more milk if it’s too thick or cooking it a bit longer if it’s too thin.
- For years Italians and French have fought over the invention of this sauce, although the oldest cookbook that contains the recipe for besciamella is of Italian origins and dates back to the 15th century.
The basic recipe of this Italian bechamel sauce has some tasty variations you can make, these are my favorites:
- Cheesy: Add grated parmigiano or melty cheese such as fontina, asiago, mozzarella, or even cheddar, and use the sauce to make this finocchi gratinati recipe.
- Herbed: Steep some fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme in the warm milk, or add them chopped to the finished sauce.
- Pesto: Mix in a few tablespoons of pesto for a flavorful variation.
- Mushroom: Blend some sautéed mushrooms into the sauce or add them chopped for texture.
- Vegetables: Purée vegetables like spinach, butternut squash, or roasted red peppers and add them to the sauce.
- Garlic: Sauté and caramelize chopped garlic before making the roux, or add a pinch of garlic powder.
How to Store
One of the things I love most about this basic Italian recipe is that you can make it ahead and save time in the kitchen.
The besciamella sauce can last up to 3-4 days in the fridge nicely stored in an airtight container.
I recommend adding the sauce to the container and then placing a layer of plastic wrap in contact with the sauce to prevent a hard skin from forming on top. Close the container with a tight lid and place it in your refrigerator.
You can also freeze it for up to 2-3 months. When ready to use, thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat in a saucepan with a splash of milk to loosen up the sauce.
More Italian Basic Recipes
- 4 ¼ cups whole milk (1 liter)
- 0.8 cups all-purpose flour (100 g, sifted)
- 3.5 oz butter (100g)
- nutmeg (to taste)
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- Place the butter in a saucepan and melt it over medium heat, stirring from time to time with a whisk.
- Add the flour while whisking vigorously. Keep whisking the mixture and allow to cook until the flour slightly turns into a golden color.
- Pour in the milk little by little while stirring with the whisk to prevent the mixture from forming large lumps.
- Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
- Set the heat to medium-low and cook the sauce for 10 minutes while stirring constantly. The sauce is done when it has a thick texture that fully coats the back of a wooden spoon.
- Turn off the heat and adjust seasonings to taste.
- You can use it now on your recipe or store it for later.
- To store the sauce: You first have to let it cool completely, then put it in the refrigerator where it can last three to four days.
- Freeze it: If you want you can also freeze it and when you need it, defrost it in the refrigerator the day before using it, then warm it up slightly by adding a splash of milk.
- Enhance it: Depending on the recipe in which you are going to use the sauce, you can flavor it by heating the milk with various spices and aromatic herbs, including garlic and onion.
- The skin: Once the besciamella sauce is ready, just let it cool and cover with cling film, making sure that it is in contact with the sauce to avoid a hard skin layer from forming on the surface.
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