Anyone who has traveled to France is sure to have come into contact with the tasty Croque Monsieur. The simple, buttery, cheesy, toasted ham sandwich is the perfect meal for a quick lunch, and virtually every casual café has one on their menu. But how did the Croque Monsieur become such a common French snack? Well, some believe that the sandwich was created on accident by French workers. The story says that the French workers left their lunch containers too close to a hot radiator, and the heat that was given off accidentally toasted the bread and melted the cheese in their sandwiches – thus, the Croque Monsieur. Another story suggests that the sandwich was created in 1901 when a Paris brasserie ran out of quality baguettes during a lunch rush. In a bind, the chef took out a loaf of pain de mie – essentially American sandwich bread – sliced it up, and put ham and cheese inside as the filling. The one thing we know for sure is that the sandwich was first referred to as a “Croque Monsieur” on a Parisian café menu in 1910, and the first recipe was printed in Proust’s work, “In Search of Lost Time” in 1918. No matter the origins, the classic Croque Monsieur is a delicious treat. Even better? It’s simple to make at home and perfect to make in batches for company.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole milk
3 cups grated Gruyere, Swiss, or Emmentaler cheese, divided
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, divided
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
12 slices firm white sandwich bread
18 slices Black Forest ham
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter over moderately low heat. Once the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk together well for approximately one minute to form a roux. Do not let the roux brown. Once combined, slowly add the milk while whisking constantly to prevent lumps.
Add 1 cup of the Gruyere and all of the parmesan cheese, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Allow the sauce to thicken by simmering approximately 8 minutes.
To a baking sheet, add the slices of bread. Bake for a total of 6 minutes, turning the bread half way, until toasted.
Remove the bread from the oven. It’s time to arrange the sandwiches! First, apply Dijon mustard to half of the bread slices. To the same slices, add three slices of Black Forest ham. From the remaining 2 cups of Gruyere, use approximately half to sprinkle over the ham. Top with the other pieces of toasted bread to make a total of 6 sandwiches.
Add the sandwiches to a lined baking sheet. Spoon generous amounts of the cheesy béchamel sauce all over the sandwiches, then sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere.
Bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler to high, and broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden (approximately 3-5 minutes). Serve immediately.
*Feature photo courtesy of http://www.seriouseats.com
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