Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Croque Monsieur

Ohh la la, Croque Monsieur. What the heck is it? Well first, it's delicious. Second, it's a gourmet French version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, 
but, well. . .hmmm. . .
it's not grilled and, well. . . 
there's more to it than just ham and cheese, but. . .
it is delicious, believe me!

I've only been to France once, way back in 1984, way back! And well, I was only in Paris, and only there for three days. Although I was there, I can't say I spent enough time to absorb much culture. Going back is on the "bucket list", along with about a million other things, I'm only in my 40's, I've got time, right? RIGHT? So although I'm no expert on French culture I do love to eat French food. So how did I discover this gem? In the same odd, round-a-bout way that I seem to stumble on a lot of stuff.

Last year when my husband went away on a business trip, per usual, I went and rented a bunch of "chick flick" DVDs, movies I knew he didn't want to see but I did. Among the pile of rentals was "It's Complicated". Now oddly enough, I didn't really care for the movie although it had a lot of actors that I like in it. I didn't hate it, I just don't think it was meant for me, I'm not "that" age, I'm not divorced, etc. What I did like (or should I say envy) was that the main character owned a bakery, and in many scenes she was cooking or baking. At one point the ex-husband character mentions how much he misses her "Croque Monsieur". Now why I keyed in on that one thing from the movie, who knows? I'm weird, I just do things like that. But I was intrigued. What was it? I had to know. So off to the internet I went and here is what I discovered. Enjoy!

Oh and by the way, there are about a million different versions of this sandwich and much debate on what makes it an authentic Croque Monsieur. Pretty much every café and every chef has a different take on it. The common thread is that it has ham, cheese and is cooked. This is my version, authentic or not.

First you need to make a Bechamel Sauce (it just a fancy term for a basic white sauce) and it needs to be cheesy. You'll need: butter, flour, whole milk, nutmeg, Thyme (or your favorite dried herb), and shredded Swiss cheese.

Start by melting the butter in a small saucepan.

Then add the flour and whisk it around. 
Cook it for 1-2 minutes but DON'T let it get brown.

Whisk in the whole milk and then add the nutmeg and thyme.

Continue whisking until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens.

Remove from heat, add the shredded cheese and whisk until smooth.

Let it cool and then refrigerate until you're ready to use it.
You can make this a day or two in advance.

To make the sandwich you'll need: a loaf of rustic French Bread, olive oil, your cheesy Bechamel Sauce, ham, salt, pepper, shredded Swiss Cheese, parmesan cheese, spinach (optional) and tomato (optional).

Drizzle a rimmed baking sheet with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Cut 4 (or more) 3/4-inch slices of French Bread. Lay them on the baking sheet and slide them around to make sure the bottom side is evenly coated with olive oil.

Spread 2-3 tablespoons of the Bechamel Sauce on each slice of bread making an even layer all the way to the edges of the bread.

Top each slice of bread with 2 slices of ham. 

If you like you can add tomato slices, spinach, or any kind of thin-sliced vegetable.
Red pepper and zucchini are good but should be pre-cooked.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Next add 4 tablespoons of grated Swiss cheese to each slice, in an even layer, and grate approximately 1 tablespoon of parmesan on top of that.

Bake in a HOT 400°F oven for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is brown and toasted and the bottom of the bread is toasted and crunchy. You don't want to just melt the cheese but really bake the whole sandwich.

And there you have it. A delicious, customizable, French delight. You can eat it with a knife and fork if your so inclined but I usually just grab it with my mitts and dive in. 
Bon Appetite!

Croque Monsieur
Preheat oven to 400°F
Serves 4

4 3/4-inch slices of rustic French Bread
2-3 T. olive oil
Cheesy Bechamel Sauce (recipe below)
8 slices Black Forest Ham
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 C. grated Swiss Cheese
4 T. grated Parmesan Cheese
8 thin slices of tomato (optional)
10-12 spinach leaves (optional)

Drizzle a rimmed baking sheet with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil. Place the slices of bread on the baking sheet and slide them around a bit so that the bottom side of the bread is evenly coated with olive oil. Spread 2-3 tablespoons Cheesy Bechamel Sauce on the top side of the bread slices, spreading it out evenly to the edges. Top each piece of bread with 2 slices of Black Forest Ham. Add a few tomato slices and spinach leaves, if desired. Salt and Pepper to taste. Next, add approximately 4 tablespoons of grated Swiss Cheese and 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese to each bread slice. Bake in a 400°F oven for 15-20 minutes until cheese starts to brown and bread is crispy and toasted on the bottom.

Cheesy Bechamel Sauce
(can be made a day or two in advance)
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 C. whole milk
Pinch nutmeg
1/4 t. dried Thyme (or your favorite dried herb)
1/2 C. shredded Swiss Cheese

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add flour, whisk and cook for 1-2 minutes (do not let get brown) Whisk in milk. Add nutmeg and Thyme. Continue to stir until sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Turn off heat. Add shredded Swiss Cheese  and whisk until smooth. Let cool and then refrigerate.

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