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Milk Street Recipe
Milk Street Bowtie Parmesan Besciamella

Parmesan Besciamella

Appears in March-April 2020
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40 minutes

Parmesan Besciamella

3 Cups

This white sauce is packed with flavor from bay, basil and Parmesan and gets a hint of heat from red pepper flakes. The finished besciamella can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two days.

Don’t allow the sauce to cool completely before straining. It flows more easily through the mesh of the strainer when warm and fluid.



40 minutes

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) salted butter, cut into 6 pieces
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 quart half-and-half
3 bay leaves
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (1½ cups)
6 large fresh basil leaves
  • 6

    tablespoons (¾ stick) salted butter, cut into 6 pieces

  • ¼

    cup all-purpose flour

  • 1

    quart half-and-half

  • 3

    bay leaves

  • ½

    teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

  • 3

    ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (1½ cups)

  • 6

    large fresh basil leaves

nancy b.
December 24, 2022
salt and pepper
this needs 1.5 tsp. of salt and 1/3 tsp of white or black pepper. No need to strain as it's incorporated into the entire dish
Scott N.
October 18, 2022
Can the sauce be frozen for later use?
I saw on the Ragu Q&A that it could be frozen and used later without issue so I was wondering if the besciamella could also be frozen or if that would cause it to fall apart?
Nicholas J.

Is there a typo? 4 cups of half and half + butter and cheese made well over 3 cups of sauce, even after reduced.

Janelle C.

Hi Nicholas,

The ingredient quantities are correct as written. How long did you reduce the sauce for?

The Milk Street Team

Deborah C.

what else can I use the extra sauce for

Janelle C.

Hi Deborah,

You can use it as a base for creamy pasta sauces, over roasted vegetables and meats, in soups and etc. We're sure you'll find plenty of uses for it.

The Milk Street Team

Tracey K.

The recipe does not state when to add basil.

Janelle C.

Hi Tracy,

It's mentioned in the second step: "Off heat, whisk in the Parmesan and basil."

The Milk Street Team

James K.

Is salted butter an absolute requirement? Can I use the same quantity of unsalted butter with some amount of added salt?

Janelle C.

This is a great question. Would you post it in our Q&A Forum for Milk Street Insiders and Digital subscribers? It's currently free for all to use and we're sure others would love to hear the answer to this one.

The Milk Street Team

Thomas L.

Just wanted to put my two cents in here.

I reduced the sauce another 10-ish minutes on top of whats listed and it reduced/thickened beautifully.

From all the ingredients, it made just enough to coat 3 thin layers for the lasagna. Tasted amazing.

James B.

Nice! I’m making the Ragù now. Will do what you said for this sauce.

Carmencita D.

What can I substitute for half and half?

Janelle C.

Hi Carmencita,

There isn't a practical substitution for half and half, but you can try a mixture of 2/3 skim milk to 1/3 heavy cream.

The Milk Street Team


We would have never thought to add BAY leaves ... raised it a level !!

Fred L.

If I'm unable to get fresh basil could I use some dried? Maybe if I wrapped it in some cheese cloth or some typr of tea strainer? Also fresh parm is tough to get in the woods we live in. Going to have to try using name brand packaged stuff from the cheese cooler. Its presliced pretty thin, should I chop it to make it finer? I think they add cornstarch to the presliced stuff so I wonder if I should cut back on the flour?

April D.

Good questions, Fred. For the basil, my first recommendation would be for a different fresh herb, rather than dried basil; parsley would be my first choice, though thyme, oregano or rosemary would also be great. If none of those are available to you fresh, then I would simply skip the herb, as dried basil will introduce savory, woodsy flavors here that you're already getting from the bay. For the parmesan, definitely chop or grate it as finely as you can: the finer it is, the better it will melt into the sauce. Finally, though you are right that presliced or pregrated cheeses usually contain stabilizers, I would keep the amount of flour called for the same, as the stabilizers in the cheese shouldn't be significant enough to change the consistency of your sauce. Good luck! -April D.

Pamela T.

Here in Japan, there no such thing as Half and Half. We have regular milk and low fat milk. Cream comes in 2 forms: 35% and 47%. Can I use half milk and half cream to get the same result?

Lynn C.

Hi Pamela -

I think the conversion in Janelle's comment above should work for you using 2/3 low-fat milk and 1/3 heavy cream (36%).

The Milk Street Team

John G.

This recipe page doesn't print nor save to PDF correctly .

John K.

I got that problem as well. A "This site collects cookies" message overlays the second page of the recipe.

John K.

This was easily the best besciamella I've ever made! The texture and flavors are wonderful!

Diana L.

This cheese sauce is amazing. If I could eat it all, I would. The flavors, the texture, all is very good.