Cream Sauces: Alfredo, Bechamel, Cheese

Cream sauces, while enjoyable (to me) regardless of any season, is fitting for most palettes during fall and winter. I’m a lover of a good cheese sauce for, yes, mac and cheese, but also have a taste for alfredo. While I have typically opted to purchase Alfredo by the jar, I have found that there really is no substitute for scratch alfredo when it’s half the cost to make yourself and so much better than anything you can buy at the store. There is one drawback to the alfredo becoming part of your weekly ritual though, and that is the butter. I love butter, but I know better. This lead to me to finding an alternative cream sauce to make that has less butter but still has a good creamy consistency to make with pastas: Bechamel.

I appreciate the versatility of these three kinds of sauces, and that they freeze well, which lends itself to making big batches on the weekend when you have time, and to freezing portions. This is a great option to have in the freezer so when you only have 15 minutes to make dinner, you can throw the frozen sauce into a pan and melt while making noodles (and sauteing vegetables if you’re so inclined), for an easy dinner.

Cheese Sauce
I’m a mac and cheese girl, and when you really start to get into making mac and cheese, it can become quite expensive because you want the good cheese that will melt well, and taste divine. The upside to that is it is perfect for a dinner party since it feeds many and tastes more like dessert than dinner. It’s a memorable meal.

Martha Stewart’s Creamy Mac-and-Cheese
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics
Source: Smitten Kitchen
Serves 12

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to l/2-inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.
5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyère (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes (though we needed a bit more time to get it brown, but your oven may vary). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Since I had extra bread dough in the fridge, we made homemade bread (cubed when cooled) for the breadcrumbs. Of note, the cheese sauce yielded far more sauce than we needed, so froze the extra two cups into two one-cup Tupperware and froze for another meal.

Alfredo Sauce
The reason this sauce requires so few ingredients and forgives on simplicity (add to noodles and done. Or add some chicken if you are so inclined), is the butter and heavy cream. It tastes so good that you are glad the dish is simple – it’s best to let the butter do the talking.

Fettuccine Alfredo
Source: Gourmet 1974/reprinted 2001 via Epicurious
Serves 4
12 oz dried egg fettuccine
1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (4 oz) plus additional for sprinkling
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Cook fettuccine in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander.

Melt 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) butter in a 2- to 3-quart flameproof gratin dish over low heat. Add cooked pasta and toss to coat, lifting strands. Add cheese, reserved cooking water, cream, remaining 3 tablespoons butter (thinly sliced), salt, and pepper and toss to combine well. Sprinkle with additional cheese and serve immediately.

Bechamel is french for white sauce and is not necessarily fancy, nor does it stand on its own as a cheese or alfredo sauce. This sauce is a base sauce, meant mainly for cream texture and to let the flavors in a dish stand out. Like bacon.

And half a yellow onion diced, sauteed in the bacon grease.

With corn and peas added, 1 cup each

While in another pan, you are making the bechamel:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/4 cups milk, heated
Freshly ground pepper
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don’t let it brown — about 2 minutes. Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

Put your water onto boil, for the tagliatelle. Then cut your bacon strips into smallish bites, and remove your onion/corn/peas from the pan once cooked:

And add your mixture to the cream sauce while the tagliatelle cooks.

Drain the tagliatelle once cooked al dente reserving 1/4 cup of the water, and add to the sauce. Toss to coat and serve.

Another great option for bechamel, since it is a base sauce, is to add 1/4-1/2 cup of grated cheese (any kind you like!) and add to pasta if you don’t want to make the full Mac ‘n Cheese recipe above.


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