The Setting: Fleece socks; lots of layers; frozen fingertips; sleeping baby.
The Soundtrack: Snow shovels scraping asphalt.
Steaming up the (microwave) Oven: Hot water for tea, Black Cherry Berry this time. It's good, but I prefer Lemon Zinger.
The Scenario: Dreaming of romantic times and warmer climes.
Early in our relationship Hoosband and I did a little falling in love in the Basque Country.
Along with our friend Joyner, our collective backpacks, and our trusty, rented Peugeot, we drove from Barcelona to Bordeaux, from Pamplona to Perpignan, stopping upon the Pyrenees and along the coasts as we pleased.
We were young, adventurous, and cash-strapped. It was, as you can imagine, amazing.
One of our first stops was the beach-town of Biarritz, France, along the Bay of Biscay. We stopped on a whim to dip our toes in the water and decided to stay for lunch.
It was here, at what was more of a concession-stand than a cafe, that I consumed my first croque-monsieur.
A French take on a ham-and-cheese sandwich, the so-called "Mr. Crunch" came hot, pressed, and oozing with bechamel and melted Gruyere. Now that is my kind of fast food.
Rather than keeping the Gruyere and bechamel separate, I like to mix them together without fully melting the cheese, making a sort of chunky Mornay sauce--sometimes I add a little Parmesan to the sauce as well. As for the bread and ham, I like a good sandwich bread such as Whole Foods' 365 Snappy Sourdough or a homemade whole wheat (as pictured in this post), and either shaved Virginia ham from the deli counter or a mix of deli ham and prosciutto (using all prosciutto can make it too salty). Coating the outsides of the bread with a simple Parmesan compound butter lends extra flavor and crunch.
1 oz unsalted butter
1 oz flour
1 cup milk (skim is fine)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
4-5 oz coarsely shredded Gruyere cheese
Parmesan Compound Butter, room temperature, recipe follows
Bread of choice
Ham of choice
Make the Mornay Sauce: Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-to-med-low heat. Whisk in the flour to form a roux. Whisk in the milk very gradually to avoid creating lumps. Continue cooking and whisking until the sauce is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and stay parted when you run your finger through it (on the spoon). Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.
Makes enough for several sandwiches. Keeps well for up to one week stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
Make the Sandwich: Set a small skillet over med-high heat. Butter the outsides of two pieces of bread with the Parmesan butter. Place one piece buttered-side-down in the skillet. Top with a generous dollop of Mornay sauce, followed by ham, more Mornay sauce, and the remaining slice of bread, buttered side up. Use a large spatula to press the sandwich layers together and help you get a good sear on the bread. Cook 2-4 minutes on each side or until the bread is golden and crunchy and the cheese sauce is oozing and bubbly.
Croque Madame Variation: To make "Mrs. Crunch," top the Croque Monsieur with a fried egg.
Croque d'Auvergne Variation: Use Bleu d'Auvergne, a soft blue cheese from Auvergne, France, in place of the Gruyere.
Parmesan Compound Butter
You can use American Parmesan or another good imitation if you'd like, but nothing will be quite as good as the real thing.
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
Combine all ingredients in an electric mixer till light and fluffy. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.