My family took a vacation along the northern and northwestern part of France. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Not only was I completely in paradise because we began and ended the trip in Paris, but in between living it up in the big city, we visited quaint bed and breakfasts and met tiny French men and women. One bed and breakfast was on several acres of land, and I was drawn to the surrounding forests and ancient Roman pathways. I’ve never been more enchanted in my life. It was easy to lose myself in the new world and easy to transport my mind to another time entirely. I felt like I was living 100 years earlier. The way of life that the majority of these people in the villages we visited lived lives that were exquisitely simple.
Some might choose to see this as old fashioned and behind the times, but in my opinion, it was refreshing, relaxing and focused more on the simple pleasures of living. For instance, the towns were so small that there was no need to drive anywhere. Everything was within 20 minutes of each other and the weather was consistently crisp and cool. Social media was nonexistent and in its place were leisurely conversations and walks exploring the area. There was no need for Ziploc bags because there was no such thing as leftovers or stored food. Anything used to cook meals was bought the same day in the market or made that morning in the kitchen.
On that topic, I’ve never before tasted food like I did in France. I didn’t know I had so many different taste buds! But French food cultured me. One of my favorite meals was the classic French Croque Monsieur: a ham and cheese sandwich French style.
This recipe makes four sandwiches, so prepare it for your friends or family on a special occasion when you want to take them on a trip to another country!
Ingredients you will need:
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
Salt (a pinch)
Ground pepper (a pinch)
Nutmeg (a pinch)
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 sliced ham
First, preheat the oven to 400°F.
Second, mix the béchamel sauce. To do so, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium/low heat just until it starts to bubble. Spoon in the flower and allow the mixture to cook while stirring. Once smooth, stir for two more minutes. While still on the heat, slowly add the milk and whisk continuously. Continue stirring until it thickens. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in the salt, nutmeg and pepper. Stir in 1/4 of a cup of the Gruyère and all of the Parmesan. Set aside.
The third step is to lay out the slices of bread onto a baking sheet and lightly spread butter over them. Toast them in the oven until each side is lightly browned.
Then, apply a thin layer of the mustard to half of the toasted slices (4 out of the 8). Lay the slices of ham onto these halves and top with 1 cup of Gruyère cheese. Finish the assembly by topping with the other toasted bread slices.
Finally, spoon on the béchamel sauce to the tops of the sandwiches. Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère cheese. Place the sandwiches on a broiling pan. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, broil for 3 to 5 minutes, until the cheese topping is bubbly and lightly browned.
Fun fact: If you want to take your sandwich form a Croque Monsieur to a Croque Madame, top this sandwich with a fried egg!