I was going through my odds-and-ends box on my desk one day, trying to thin it out a bit, and I came across this postcard from my brother. It was from one of his trips to Paris and just in case you can't make out the writing, I will translate:
Bonjour! I spent yesterday at the Palace of Versailles and you didn't! Today, maybe I will go to the Louvre...and you won't! See ya, sucker!
That was a little rude, wasn't it? I'll show him, though. I'll make my own ham and cheese sandwich, French style. The Croque Monsieur. It's a delicious hot sandwich made with ham and lots of swiss and topped with a creamy bechamel sauce. It's a little taste of France in the middle of Arkansas.
Croque Monsieur (original recipe from Ina Garten)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (5 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.
To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.
Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.