On my first trip to Europe, I visited Paris, France. My grandfather was born in France, his parents were born in Belgium. The family hopped back and forth across the line between the two countries as work was available. Although I don’t consider myself any more than a brief dash of French, I managed to find several dishes in France that were worth adding to my family favorites.
Although this recipe is a bit lengthy to prepare, it is so very worth the time. The French really know how to do a ham and cheese sandwich. My very first taste of a Croque Monsieur was at a sitting outside at a bistro table at a small restaurant near Sacre Coeur. La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre, Sacred Heart Church, is favorite location, and I made a special trip back to see it again this past October when in Paris. This time I climbed the stairs up towards the beautiful white church, passing the antique double decker carousel at the bottom.
I had two things that I knew I wanted to do, buy another painting from Behras and have a Croque Monsieur for lunch. I had lunch under the tent at Au Cadet De Gascogne that is surrounded by painters. Wedged into a long table, elbow to elbow with other travelers, I watched the world go by and lunched on my sandwich and wine. It was as I had remembered it from before, warm and cheesy on the top with the salty taste of the ham to follow.
I found Behras right where I had left him in 2010. He was working on a painting and had sold his last two before I got there. I said hello and he told me that he remembered me from my previous trip and purchase. He must not get a lot of short redheads that buy paintings! He gave me his email address on a piece of card board to contact him about a painting and I headed back towards Sacre Coeur for one last look.
French Ham And Cheese Sandwich
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
A pinch each of salt, freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, or more to taste
6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups grated)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (packed)
8 slices of French or Italian loaf bread
12 ounces ham, sliced
Preheat oven to 400°degrees.
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 1/4 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. You can also use an electric toaster to toast bread.
(Alternatively, you can assemble the sandwiches as follows in step four and grill them on a skillet, finishing them in the broiler with the bechamel sauce.)
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.
If you top this sandwich with a fried egg it becomes a Croque Madame.