Inevitably, we always have bread on the verge of going stale in our kitchen. Now that I am passing a brief spell in France, every morning I enjoy the clichéd French ritual of buying a fresh baguette. I can emphatically tell you which boulangerie has the best baguette a l’ancienne, pain de campagne and galette des rois in a one, five and ten mile radius. (I will also add that one should never buy bread or pastry at Sesame or Carrefour!) Suffice it to say, we eat a lot of bread in our house and unsurprisingly there is always some sort of bread product threatening to go bad on us. If there exists such as thing as an unforgivable sin in Napoli, it would be throwing bread away. More importantly, stale bread soaked in egg is so versatile (for both sweet and savory dishes) that there really is no reason to ever toss it.
Rock hard, stale bread is brought to life in countless recipes by soaking it in egg. The French famously created ‘pain perdu,’ or ‘lost bread’ to make what we call French toast in America. In our house, we prefer savory breakfast items so I regularly make this version of Croque Monsieur for weekend brunch.
Giuseppe started calling this dish Croque Signore because it is not a traditional Croque Monsieur. Croque Monsieur usually includes a béchamel sauce. We don’t use béchamel in this dish for two reasons. One, I am lazy and I really don’t feel like making a béchamel sauce just so that Giuseppe and I can eat a sandwich largely consisting of stale bread and ham.
And two, Giuseppe detests béchamel sauce. He must have inherited this extremely Francophobic reaction to béchamel from his mother. As Peruvians and Chileans have argued over the provenance of Pisco, Italians and French have bickered for years about who can rightfully claim the invention of the béchamel. Giuseppe’s mother set me straight one morning last August when she told me apropos of nothing, “We created balsamella but the French can have it back.” She then went on to imply that béchamel is quite possibly frowned upon by not only the Vatican, but also the Madonna.
Ecclesiastical perspectives on béchamel sauce aside, this recipe is just plain easy to make and it is delicious. We avoid the béchamel and add thinly cut soppressata to make it all'italiana. Now I suppose the French will also be asking for their sandwich back. Bon Appétit!
This recipe is for two large sandwiches that can be halved to serve two hungry people or four moderately peckish people
Salt (to taste)
Cracked pepper (to taste)
¼ Teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ Cup grated Emmentaler or Gruyere cheese (or other hard cheese you have on hand, such as Piave, Parmesan or Grana Padano)
4 Slices of cheese (depending on the type of cheese, the size of your slice will vary. You want a thin layer of cheese covering the sandwich bread regardless)
1 Tablespoon butter
4 slices of country bread cut about ¼” thick
1 Tablespoon grain mustard (Maille brand is best)
4 slices of deli ham
4 slices of sopressata or other salami
4-6 cornichon as garnish
Whisk the egg, salt, pepper, nutmeg and grated cheese in a medium mixing bowl.
Heat butter over medium heat in a medium sized sauté pan. (Ensure that your heat is not turned up too high or your butter will brown).
Working quickly, slather two slices of bread with mustard.
Layer ham, cheese and sopressatta on mustard slathered bread and top with naked slice of bread.
One at a time, dunk the bread in egg mixture. Allow about 5-10 seconds for each side of bread to soak up egg mixture.
Add each sandwich to melted butter in sauté pan. Cook about two minutes each side. (Depending on the size of your sauté pan you may have to heat sandwiches in batches).
Slice sandwiches in half, garnish with cornichon and serve hot.