Friday, February 18, 2011

Croque Monsieur

Today, I am missing PARIS.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe because this is the week of Valentine's and romance.  All week long I have been thinking about the City Of Lights, wishing I was strolling along the Sein river looking at postcards and old books, drinking cafe blanc and watching all the people pass by.  In my mind, I can see the sidewalk cafes, taste the pain au chocolate, touch the marble statues at the Louvre and smell the old cathedrals.  Aahh.  When I get like this, not home-sick but "Paris-sick", I have to bake or cook something that reminds me of this beautiful city.  I usually put in a movie like Sabrina, Something's Gotta Give or It's Complicated (which doesn't take place in Paris, but celebrates French Food) and dream of Paris. 

Last night, in honor of that wonderful city, the Mr. came home to French wine, tossed salad with dijon vinagrette and croque monsieur.  I sent him a message so he would hurry home.  His text came back to me... "Ooooo La La!  I don’t know what all that is, but it sure sounds good!"

Croque Monsieur is a hot ham and cheese sandwich, typically made with Gruyere cheese and topped with a bechamel sauce.  Bechamel is basically a mornay with cheese.  Mornay is a white sauce, one of the main sauces of French food, and is made with a butter-flour roux mixed with milk.  A bechamel adds cheese to this sauce, in this case, Gruyere and Parmesan.  It sounds complicated, but it's not.  It is fairly easy to make and pretty inexpensive (except for the Gruyere cheese).  So if you want to impress your friends and bring joy to your family, try this classic French recipe.  Everyone will go home happy, dreaming of a city full of lights and romance.

Croque Monsieur
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
A pinch each of salt, freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups Gruyère cheese, grated
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (packed)
8 slices of French or Italian loaf bread
12 ounces ham, sliced
Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400°F.   Make the béchamel sauce. Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium/low heat until it just starts to bubble. Add the flour and cook, stirring until smooth, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously, cooking until thick. Remove from heat. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the Parmesan and 1/2 cup of the grated Gruyère. Set aside.

Lay out the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven, a few minutes each side, until lightly toasted. For extra flavor you can spread some butter on the bread slices before you toast them if you want. 

Lightly brush half of the toasted slices with mustard. Add the ham slices and about 1 cup of the remaining Gruyère cheese. Top with the other toasted bread slices.  Spoon on the béchamel sauce to the tops of the sandwiches. Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère cheese. Place on a broiling pan. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then turn on the broiler and broil for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until the cheese topping is bubbly and lightly browned.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

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