Mr. & Mrs.

It is the perfect Memorial Day weekend in Tucson. The sun is shining, the sky is excruciatingly blue, and it isn't too hot. In fact, it's downright pleasant and much cooler than anyone dreams of for this holiday weekend in the desert.

For some reason, I have been wanting to make a loaf of Pain de Mie again. There are so many ways to use it - Toasted Bread Boxes, may be my favorite. But this weekend I have been craving a Croque Monsieur, or perhaps a Croque Madame, since I have wonderful fresh eggs from my friend, Nancy.

This is a very classic French bistro dish, a recipe dating to the early years of the twentieth century. Perhaps Proust had a Croque Monsieur before he nibbled that now-legendary madeleine. I tend to order this flavorful sandwich whenever I see it on a menu.

I had my first when I was in high school, an enthusiastic member of my school's French Club. We gathered on occasion to make and share «un repas». Memorable recipes made with the club included French onion soup, pâtè de campagne, and a fantastic Croque Monsieur | Croque Madame. You know - typical teen after-school snacks.

Mark remembers his first Croque Madame, as well, during his first visit to Paris. We had spent the day exploring Montmartre and, afterwards - a bit peckish - sought food. At the foot of the hill, not too far from Place Pigalle, we found a typical bistro and ordered a Croque Madame for Mark and a Monsieur for me.

Sometimes, when we are in the car, we reminisce about our most memorable meals together. Very rarely will these memories take us to fancy Michelin-starred restaurants; more often the memories take us to a place in a garden, a farm, a quiet little restaurant, or unassuming bistro. This simple meal of comforting sandwiches was definitely memorable for us both, nibbling our lunch in the shadows of the Moulin Rouge.

The ingredients are few for this dish - pain de mie (I really think the bread must be pain de mie – and never sour dough; anyone in France want to weigh in?), ham, cheese, béchamel sauce, and mustard. There are (if you look online) hundreds of recipes, each with a slight variation: the cheese in the béchamel or the cheese on top; mustard on both pieces of bread, or just one side; toast the bread, grill the sandwich, bake it, broil it, or a hybrid. Basically, they all work!

The difference between a Croque Monsieur and a Croque Madame is merely the addition of a fried egg to the latter.

Here is my recipe for a Croque Monsieur or Madame, enjoyed today with a 2015 Domaine Tour Campanets rosé from Coteaux d'Aix en Provence. To learn more about the wine and pairing it with food, visit the Provence WineZine. (Great news - the Provence WineZine has been nominated for several Wine Blog Awards - one of which is for best photography! Visit the Wine Blog Awards website and please vote for the Provence WineZine!)

Bon Appétit!

~ David

Croque Monsieur | Croque Madame

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
salt & freshly ground black pepper
pinch freshly-grated nutmeg
softened butter
8 slices pain de mie
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 slices of baked ham, each about ¾ of an ounce
2 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
4 eggs, optional

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add all the milk at once, and whisk constantly until very thick. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Set aside.

Spread 4 slices of pain de mie each with 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard, then sprinkle each with 1/2 cup of grated Gruyère cheese, and top with a slice of ham. Place the remaining slices of pain de mie on top. Butter tops and bottoms of the sandwich and cook slowly on a flat griddle until lightly golden on both sides.

Preheat the broiler, and place rack 4-5 inches from the heat. Place sandwiches on a cookie sheet – or in gratin dishes for serving - and spoon about 1/2 cup of the béchamel sauce on top of each sandwich, letting it run down the sides. Sprinkle the 4 sandwiches with the remaining 1/2 cup Gruyère cheese.

Slide the sandwiches under the broiler and remove when golden brown on top. Serve immediately. Steamed asparagus or a salad makes a nice side.

Serves 4.

To make a Croque Madame, simply top the sandwich with a sunny-side-up fried egg.

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