You were being asked to stir the white sauce into an eight that was an important lesson. I have no idea my age. At what age do you leave a child in charge of a pot of boiling milk and ask him to stir it for 10 minutes? Seven? nine? Eleven? Whatever the age of my hand, I remember it was guiding the wooden spoon. Cautiously at first, in case the milk spills and burns my arm or a passing brother, but then picks up speed.
How different does an eight feel about spinning in a circle: skilled, like skiing through milk or flying a kite when the wind is right. It varies again when the milk has started to thicken and resist the ring. It was exciting, and even though I knew my mom did something at first, it felt like a miracle. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a pan transformation, but it was definitely the most satisfying and tangible. My sauce was praised, added cheese, rolled the sauce over cauliflower or pasta and licked the pan. I couldn’t wait to make it happen again.
At some point, I learned the thing my mom did in the beginning. Melt the butter, then add the flour until it sticks into a dough that you want to form a ball. Raw! To which you add milk, slowly, until it becomes a more viscous paste. I was told to “fail the blocks”. Next thing I knew, he was skinny again. What a roller coaster! “Move into an eight. Be patient. It will thicken.” But is this? It was like being charged for a magic trick: even if done perfectly, it could still go wrong.
After four decades and hundreds of sinks, I have exactly the same set of ideas every time. Too thick. too thin. Nothing good will come of this. Fortunately, the number eight through milk is still around as well, so between the worry and the endless loop, there’s a satisfying amount of white sauce, béchamel or sauce. The last thing he ate on this dish was potato and zucchini bread. The result of rushing and scrolling through a picture of a golden bakery and assuming it was related to bechamel, when in fact it was milk and eggs. The photo was from Sardinian chef Andrea Lucci, whom I trust (and usually read very carefully), so I’ll be making a copy of it soon. Meanwhile, my mistake, which is like a cross between potato gratin, cauliflower, and zucchini cheese, turned out to be a new family favorite.
Serve with a green salad and, if desired, a chili sauce shake. I can’t wait to make it happen again.
Zucchini, potatoes, bechamel bread
to equip 15 minutes
cook 1 hour
3 large potatoes (about 600g)
3 large zucchini (about 600g)
50 gm butterPlus additional lubricating and finishing materials
50g plain flour
600 ml full fat milk
60 gm Parmesan cheesegrated
Salt and black pepper
1 soft bread crumbs
Peel the potatoes and distribute the zucchini on top, then the tail. Using a mandolin, shred the cheese on a box grater or with a sharp knife and with a steady hand, chop the vegetables into thin slices—don’t worry if they’re uneven or not sliced whole. Dry all cut slices with a tea towel.
Now, make the bechamel. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir until it turns into a thick roux. Gradually whisk the milk into the dough – it will thicken and then become fluffy. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring vigorously in an eight shape, until thick enough to slowly fall off the back of a spoon. Add half of the cheese, taste and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Preheat oven to 200°C (180°C fan) / Gas 6. Grease an oven dish or Pyrex dish with butter, flip all the potatoes and zucchini, sprinkle with salt and stir. Pour over the béchamel and toss as much as possible so the vegetables are coated with the sauce. Put the top layer, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and a handful of breadcrumbs, and put the butter.
Cover lightly with tin foil and bake for 40 minutes, then remove the tin foil for the last 10 minutes to brown the surface.