When Matt and I went to Paris in the summer of 2008, the dollar was doing terribly against the Euro, so we very much ate on a budget. There were lots of croissants, baguette sandwiches, fresh snacks from the farmers market, and early dinners at the bistro around the corner from our hotel. (I was about five months pregnant at the time, so we would spend the whole day walking after rising early, then collapse for the night before it even got truly dark! Despite having spent a week there, I have still never seen Paris at night!) I fell instantly in love with macarons (in general) and truffles from Cacao et Chocolat and Leonidas, but that’s not really surprising given my sweet tooth. Matt, on the other hand, LOVES cheese and meat and so his favorite Paris bite was the croque monsieur.
Croque monsieur is a hot ham and cheese (usually Gruyere or Emmental) sandwich that originated around 1910 as a fast-food-type snack. Dressier versions include a Mornay (bechamel + cheese) or bechamel sauce, which is how you see it today. I hear that here in my hometown, Bess Bistrooffers up a lovely croque monsieur, but I have yet to dine there (soon, I hope!). A croque monsieur served with a fried or poached egg on top is a croque madame, which I will never try because I don’t eat eggs.
Anyhoo, over the past couple of years, Matt has tried to replicate the croque monsieur a few times, but has not been satisfied with his results. I finally realized that it was because he was omitting the bechamel that his sandwiches weren’t fulfilling that Platonic croque for my monsieur (and I’m sure that terroir plays no small part in this experience). So, when I came across this recipe, I decided to give it a whack as a treat for my husband and as a gesture toward the truly wonderful time we had together in Paris.
Puff Pastry Croque Monsieur
adapted slightly from Everyday Food
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed (seriously, plan ahead for this one. They need to sit out for 40 minutes before you can use them. PLAN AHEAD, says the woman who made two attempts to make this before getting the puff pastry thing mastered)
1 T unsalted butter
3 T flour
1 c 2% milk
coarse salt and ground pepper
a peeeeencsh of ground nutmeg
6 oz thinly sliced deli ham
1 c grated Gruyere
1 large egg, beaten
While the pastry thaws, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stirring and cooking until golden. Add milk, whisking constantly, and simmer, stirring until thickened (about 5 minutes). Add salt and pepper and nutmeg to taste. Set aside and let cool for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Roll out the puff pastry on a floured surface to a slender 10×13-inch rectangle. Place one on a baking sheet, which have been prepared with parchment paper or perhaps cooking spray to prevent stickage.
Arrange ham evenly on pastry sheet, leaving a 3/4-inch “margin” all the way around. Top with cheese and sauce. Brush the margin with the egg. Place second pastry sheet on top. Press the edges together and brush the top with the egg. Cut vents in the top pastry sheet. Bake 30 minutes until golden brown and puffy.
I served the croque with steamed green beans that were finished by lightly sauteeing with garlic in olive oil and crispy smashed potatoes. I didn’t eat very much of the croque because it’s not too WW-friendly, but the sliver I ate was delightful. I made two of them (one was for a bereavement meal) and have tons left over, so I popped the excess in the freezer. I, uh, hope such a dish freezes well!