Years ago, my mother thought me a way to make a white sauce that so easy and is infused with bay. She called it her reversed white sauce and I have never looked back.
1/2 cup FOGDOG panko or GF crumb
125g pasta of choice
1-2 tbsp flour of choice (GF flour is fine)
1 tbsp butter
2 cups milk plus 1 cup
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 bay leaf
1 cup shredded cheese your choice, sharp, aged, etc.
1/8 tsp cayenne, (optional)
1/8 tsp smoked paprika or regular paprika, (optional)
pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp salted butter
1 tbsp fine grated parmesan
parsley to garnish
Preheat oven to 180C
Cook the pasta in a medium saucepan with a good pinch of salt, according to the package instructions. Drain and run under cool water to prevent sticking. Temporarily set aside. Be careful not to overcook the pasta as you do want it to go soft and gulpy when its baked in the oven.
Transfer your saucepan back over to the stove over medium heat and add the unsalted butter, 2 cups of milk, bay leaf and heat over a medium heat till it starts to form little bubbles around the edge of the pan. Stir well and remove from the heat.
As the milk is warming combine 1 cup milk and the flour. Wisk into a paste/slurry and make sure there are no lumps.
Place the steeped milk back on the heat and warm. Once warm add ¼ of the slurry and whisk to combine. Add another ¼ of the slurry and again combine.
Now slowly stir the flour milk mixture to thicken for about 2 minutes over medium heat. We want to cook out the flour and thicken to a light to medium thickness. Add 1 tbsp of the slurry at a time until the white sauce is at the right thickness. Remove the bay leaf at this point and turn off the heat.
Add in the shredded cheese, cayenne, paprika and stir until the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remember that when you add cheese to a white sauce never do it over heat.
Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce, and stir everything together until all the pasta is coated in the sauce. Divide the pasta among one medium small, or two small, oven-safe casserole/soup-type dishes. Temporarily set aside.
Melt the salted butter, then toss with the panko crumbs and grated parmesan. Sprinkle this mixture evenly on top of the pasta.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes to finish and serve hot. Garnish the finished pasta with fresh chopped parsley.