Here’s a favorite recipe from the Alcove Café. It uses another of the “mother sauces,” béchamel.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups cream or half & half
Dash of nutmeg, preferably freshly-ground
Kosher or coarse-ground sea salt and freshly-ground pepper
optional: ½ cup shredded cheese (Parmesan or cheddar or other, depending upon your purpose)
optional: dash Tabasco sauce
Make the roux: melt the butter in a 10” skillet. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 or 3 minutes until light golden brown. Meanwhile, warm cream in a saucepan. Slowly add cream to the roux, whisking constantly, and cook about 8 minutes until thick and smooth. Add nutmeg and salt and pepper.
Now this isn’t classic béchamel, but for croques maison, we add cheese. For croques maison, we add about ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese; for simple “kids” macaroni and cheese, we add about 1 cup shredded cheddar or a combination of cheddar and mozzarella. For hoity-toity macaroni and cheese, we add cheddar, Parmesan, Gorgonzola, and Asiago, and then layer the sauced macaroni with cubed cheeses. In any case, stir in the cheese and when the cheese has melted, remove from heat. Stir in Tabasco sauce if desired.
Cool for croques maison — it will need to be butter-like, so make it the night before. While I’m at it, here’s how you make baked mac & cheese: combine the cheese sauce with cooked elbow macaroni and top with buttered bread crumbs. Bake at 350 until bubbly and golden brown.
Don’t even think about freezing your béchamel!
Roasted Roma Tomatoes
Preheat oven to 450º
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut the stem end off a Roma (“pear”) tomato. Slice the tomato lengthwise, first in half, then again so that you have long wedges.
Using your fingers or a small paring knife, scoop the seeds out of the tomato wedge and either throw them away or reserve to make tomato broth.
Place the seeded wedges on the baking sheet. You can crowd them, but don’t pile them in layers more than two tomatoes deep.
Drizzle with olive oil. We use a squirt bottle for this, and you should invest in a few. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, then Herbs de Provence.
Bake for about 10 minutes, until a few edges begin to blacken. Cool slightly. Remove from the baking sheet and store in containers in refrigerator or freezer.
It’s all about the ingredients.
8 slices great-quality whole-grain bakery bread, sliced ½” thick
1 cup cheesy béchamel sauce (béchamel with Parmesan cheese)
8 thin slices Black Forest ham
24 roasted Roma tomato quarters
8 slices good-quality Swiss cheese (or 16 small slices)
¾ cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
3 Tablespoons butter
Pre-heat broiler. Place bread slices on a baking sheet and bake 7” from heating unit till toasted on the top, but still soft on the bottom.
Cool bread slices. Use immediately or wrap in plastic and refrigerate. Keeps a couple of days.
Preheat oven to 450º F. Place toasted bread, toasted side DOWN on a work surface. Spread the un-toasted side of each bread slice with 1 – 2 Tablespoons béchamel, taking care to cover the entire top of the bread. Top with ham slice, then 3 roasted tomato slices, then Swiss cheese to cover ham. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese.
Place sandwiches on a baking sheet or pie tins, toasted side down, cheese side up. Bake until cheese is golden and bubbly.
Meanwhile, fry the eggs in a little butter, and cook to desired doneness (sunny side up, over easy, over medium, etc.). Top each sandwich with an egg and serve.