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Béchamel pasta is creamy, decadent, and the ultimate indulgence. The roasted butternut squash brings a nutty sweetness, the broccolini some bitter, and then we get a few red pepper flakes and lemon zest to bring it to life. This guy can also feed a crowd of hungry people, so save it for a rainy day!
I've been making this vegetarian baked pasta with white sauce in various forms for years (including a lasagna version, inspired by this Bon Appetite recipe which is devine). But whether it's in the form a casserole, a baked pasta, a stovetop béchamel pasta or even pizza, the flavor profiles these ingredient bring together stand out in a crowd. It elevates the dish from a normal baked pasta to a gourmet, elegant experience.
First things First: How do I Pronounce Bechamel?
It's bey-sha-mel. Definitely not beech-camel. Although now I'm thinking about beach camels and it's pretty intriguing.
This ingredient list, while not huge, is pretty wide ranging. And also involves a large amount of dairy and cheese. And carbs. If you're worried about calories, this is probably not the dish for you. It's definitely not an every day type of meal - but one for special occasions, dinner parties, and holidays.
Ingredients for the Béchamel Pasta Sauce
Making Béchamel pasta sauce is very straightforward, with only a few ingredients:
- Whole milk
- Chicken broth
- Salt and Pepper
- Mozzarella cheese
Ingredients for the Béchamel Pasta
Again, simple, but we're going to have to massage these into the place they need to be to get into this bake (keep reading for more info on this)
- Dried pasta
- Butternut squash
- Lemon zest
- Ricotta cheese
- Red pepper flakes
- Lemon zest
- Béchamel Sauce
How to Make Baked Béchamel Pasta
While this isn't a difficult recipe to make, there's definitely a few steps involved in creating some different elements, so make sure you leave yourself some time to do this. You can also assemble it ahead of time and bake it off half an hour before you're ready to eat.
Make the Béchamel
To make the béchamel sauce for the pasta, we're going to start by melting some butter in a sauce pan. Once it's melted, we're going to whisk in the flour, and continue to whisk until it turns toasty golden brown (this is called a roux, by the way. It's a classic technique to make sure whatever sauce you're making thickens beautifully). Next, we're going to add the milk and heavy cream (combined), slowly, whisking the entire time. We have to keep whisking until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Then, we can take it off the heat and add our seasoning, and mozzarella cheese. Stir the cheese until it's melted, and then set the sauce to the side.
Roast the Butternut Squash
We're going to cut the squash into fairly small (about a half inch square) for two reasons. One, it'll roast faster and two, it will be much easier to eat in this béchamel pasta when it's in bite sized pieces. Preheat your oven to 400F. Once your squash it cut, place it in a large bowl, and coat with olive oil, salt and pepper, plus the hot pepper flakes. Next, spread it evenly in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Roast it for about 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Make sure the squash is soft in the center of the cubes.
Blanch the Broccolini
For this process, we're looking to cook the broccolini just slightly, but mostly lock in the beautiful green color. Start by chopping the broccolini into one inch pieces. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. While you're waiting, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add the broccolini to the pot, and cook for one-three minutes max. Strain the broccolini and plunge it into the ice water for five minutes. Strain and set aside.
Cook your dried pasta according to package directions. In a large bowl or pot, combine the pasta, the béchamel sauce, the squash and the broccolini. Add lemon zest and red pepper flakes. Mix well, and pour into a 9x13" baking dish lined with parchment paper. Dot ricotta cheese evenly around the bake, and sprinkle the top with more mozzarella. Bake off for 30-45 minutes in a 375F oven, until the mozzarella is brown and bubbly.
Storage and Freezing
You definitely want to store this in an airtight container, and it should last between 4-5 days in the fridge. You can also freeze it for up to six months, either as one large pan, or in individual serving sizes.
Can I Make it Ahead?
Yes, definitely. You can make the butternut squash and the broccolini a day ahead, and everything else earlier on the day of serving. Assemble the entire dish, store in the fridge, and when you're ready, bake it off.
What to Serve with Béchamel Pasta
This is not a light dish, so I would definitely go with some veggies or a salad with this one. Here are a few I would try:
Warm Zucchini Salad with Mint and Pistachios
Roasted Broccoli with Pecorino and Honey
The Best Homemade Caesar Salad
Baked Béchamel Pasta with Butternut Squash and Broccolini
For the Béchamel Sauce
- ¾ C butter
- ¾ C flour
- 4 C whole milk
- ½ C chicken broth plus more, if needed to thin the sauce
- 1½ C mozzarella grated, divided
- salt and pepper, to taste
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the Pasta Bake
- 1 lb dried tube pasta such as rigatoni
- 3 C butternut squash diced into ½ inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper for seasoning
- ½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes optional
- 2 C broccolini cut in 1 inch chunks, including stems
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- ½ C ricotta cheese, crumbled
Make the Béchamel
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the flour, a couple of tablespoons at a time, whisking constantly.
- Once the butter and flour are combined, continue whisking until the roux has turned a golden brown color (this adds to the flavour of the sauce). It should take between 5-8 minutes.
- Combine the milk and chicken broth. Slowly add the milk and chicken broth mixture to the roux, whisking as you do so. We want the béchamel to be as smooth as possible. It should start to thicken right away. Just keep adding the milk mixture slowly. Continue whisking and cooking until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Add the salt and pepper, the nutmeg, and gradually add one cup of mozzarella, stirring constantly. Taste for seasoning at this point, and adjust if necessary. If the sauce looks too thick, add a bit of chicken broth to thin it out.
Make the Pasta Bake Elements
- Preheat your oven to 400°F.
- Add butternut squash, olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if using to a large bowl. Combine with your hands so the squash is coated in oil and seasoning. Spread evenly on a large baking tray, and roast for 25-30 minutes, until the squash is soft and beginning to caramelize, stirring once halfway through. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- While the squash is roasting, start making cooking your dry pasta, and blanching the broccolini. Cook pasta according to package direction, leaving it al dente. Heat water in a medium saucepan to a boil. Add the broccolini, and cook for 2 minutes. Strain, and immediately plunge into a large bowl filled with ice and water to stop the cooking process. Let it cool for at least five minutes, then strain.
Assemble the Pasta
- Once all the ingredients are prepared, strain your cooked pasta, and return it to the pot you cooked it in. I like to mix everything in the pasta pot, it just makes mixing it easier. Add the béchamel, squash, broccolini, and lemon zest. Mix thoroughly. Taste for seasoning, and adjust if necessary. Add chicken broth to thin the sauce out if you need to.
- Pour the pasta into a 9x13" pan with high sides. Crumble the ricotta evenly across the top, and sprinkle on the remaining ½ cup of mozzarella.
- Bake in a 400° oven for 30-45 minutes, until the cheese is golden and the sides are bubbly.
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