Recipe for the Barefoot Contessa
While Chris and I were in Georgia for the holidays I got a huge craving for French food. I decided that I absolutely had to make some croque monsieurs as soon as we got home. For those of you who don’t know, a croque monsieur is the French version of a ham and cheese sandwich, but it’s topped with a cheesy béchamel sauce and broiled. I adore these sandwiches even though I don’t like ham at all (I’m not sure why, just have always found it unappealing)! Chris is also a big fan of this meal and we agreed that we’d make the sandwiches soon after we got back to North Carolina.
Unfortunately, we returned home to find a dying refrigerator. Want to know how to drive a food blogger crazy? Take away her fridge for 6 days. I had been thinking about these croque monsieurs for a whole week and as much as I enjoy take out (and not doing the dishes) it was torture not being able to scratch my foodie itch. After 3 delivery attempts and a 24 hour cooling period, I was able to stock my new refrigerator with the cold cuts and dairy needed to proceed.
I used the croque monsieur recipe from Ina Garten’s cookbook Barefoot in Paris. Since these sandwiches were just for me and Chris, I halved the recipe. It usually makes enough for 4 people. Ina’s recipe calls for white sandwich bread, but I used the whole wheat bread we had in the house. I like that the recipe instructs the cook to cut the crusts off the bread. It makes the sandwiches feel fancy and well, French. You can leave them on if you prefer but I actually think that the overly toasted crust takes away from the other textures in the sandwich.
I’ve made the recipe with regular Swiss cheese before and it’s OK, but if you can get your hands on some gruyere cheese, do so. It has a sensual deep swiss flavor that you can’t find in anything else. It makes the béchamel sauce indulgent and luxurious. Speaking of that, the béchamel sauce is the only part of this recipe that’s labor intensive and is the key to this sandwich. It only took fifteen minutes to whisk the sauce together. While you’re whisking away on the béchamel you can be toasting the bread in the oven or keeping your kitty away from the ham.
The croque monsieurs are really just a quick assembly job once the béchamel is ready. They then go into the broiler for 5-7 minutes and come out bubbly and toasted. These sandwiches are little pieces of heaven, I find it so hard not to just gobble them down in 10 seconds flat. The balance is perfect: the tang from the Dijon mustard, the salty ham, the bubbly cheese sauce running over the toasty bread…I mean, as Ina says “how bad can that be”? My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
The croque monsieur is kind of like a nice pair of jeans; you can dress them up with a nice green salad, or dress them down with a side of potato chips. They can be served for a nice romantic dinner with wine or with a few sodas while you watch the T.V. in your pajamas (don’t judge). Anyway you choose, you’ll be happy with this marvelous melty sandwich on your plate. As the French would say; Bon appetit!