There are very few things I enjoy more than spending time with my guy and cooking on a lazy weekend afternoon. He’s super sweet, and also a fellow dweeb, so we geek out together on cartoons and kids’ snacks. Sometimes, I even make grown-up food for us to enjoy…while we watch Piglet’s Big Movie. Being every inch of 4’9”, I feel really empowered when I can veg out with an animated adventure where everyone figures out that the smallest guy around also has the most heart. Go figure (wink).
I must say, though, it might be in poor taste that while we watched this adorable cartoon staring a very lovable piglet, we ate what is essentially a fancier version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. A croque madame, whose name according to Wikipedia comes from the verb “croquer”, or “to bite” in French, is a ham and cheese sandwich topped with béchamel, one of the five mother sauces of French cuisine, and a lightly fried or poached egg. The original version, a croque monsieur, is the same except it does not include an egg. However, if you’re anything like my guy who doesn’t really enjoy runny yokes, you can cook the egg to the level of doneness that you prefer, or leave it out altogether. I usually make it an open-faced sandwich using just one slice of bread, but it can be made even heartier by constructing a full sandwich and topping it with the béchamel cheese sauce and some extra cheese—because why not, it’s cheese—and baking it until the top is golden brown before crowning it with an egg. Throw in a simple salad tossed with a French-inspired vinaigrette, and you’ve got a delicious, fancy, bistro brunch for a low-key, lazy weekend.
With a little bit of fuss, some day-old stale bread, and copious amounts of ooey, gooey cheesy goodness, we had a grown-up meal that even Pooh could enjoy (as long as he doesn’t tell his best little friend). Try it next time you have a lazy weekend, and a rumbly in your tumbly.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cups whole milk (or chicken broth, or half broth and half milk)
Salt to taste
Pinch of cayenne (not traditional, but trust me on this one)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated is best if you can get it)
2 ounces coarsely grated Gruyère cheese
2-4 slices stale baguette, sliced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4-1/2 pound thinly sliced cooked ham (preferably Black Forest)
2 large eggs
For the béchamel:
Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat, then whisk in flour and cook mixture, called a roux, while whisking until nutty and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Whisk in milk (or chicken broth if using), and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in salt, cayenne, black pepper, nutmeg, and half the cheese until cheese is melted.
For the sandwiches:
Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Spread the mustard evenly over each of the 4 slices of bread, then sprinkle 2 of the slices with the remaining cheese. Top the cheese-covered slices of bread with ham, then place the final slices on top of the ham. Spoon and smear the béchamel sauce on top of the closed sandwich (or on top of the ham if making an open-faced version). Bake sandwiches on a foil-lined cookie or baking sheet for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the béchamel is bubbly and golden brown in spots.
In a skillet, heat olive oil or better over medium heat, and fry eggs, covered, until whites are just set and yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes. Top each sandwich with a fried egg and serve immediately (and with a nice green salad so you won’t feel as guilty about all the cheese).