28 May 2013

Croque Houmous

There are times in your life that call for comfort food.  Soup feeds a cold, flat coke settles and upset stomach and soft potatoes soothe a sore throat.  But when the hubs woke up this morning with a vicious inflamed lymph node, I was at an utter loss as to an appropriate comfort food.  All I knew what that it had to be  cheesy, hot and have some sort of sauce smeared on top.  Then it came to me....grilled cheese.  But not just any grilled cheese - his all time favorite grilled cheese.  Because sometimes cheese between two toasted slices of bread just isn't enough.  There are times when covering that deliciousness with a béchamel sauce is just what the doctor ordered.  That's me, the lower-case doctor....ya know, not in medical school to become a real Doctor.

The hubs experienced his first croque in Walla Walla, Washington one fine summer morning.  When I saw croque madam on the breakfast menu, I basically bullied him into ordering it.  Why would I do such a dastardly thing?  Because I know my man's tummy.  And as luck (and a whole lot of kitchen time) would have it, I was right.  He went so far as to pull a "me" and lick the plate clean scrape up every last remnant with a fork.  Ever since that fateful meal he has been on a mission to sample everything croque.  Monsieurs with ham are his lunchtime favorite, while the egg of the Madame at breakfast runs a very close second to eggs benedict.  If he's feeling a bit healthier, I can even sneak a tomato slice in there with Provinçal.

A few weeks ago, we were powering through a batch of homemade hummus when I attempted a hummus panini.  Utter disaster.  Please do not attempt this at home.  Runny cheese + soft hummus = messy panini press.  However, amongst the shambled mess of the end result was an incredibly tasty flavor combination.  We both loved the warm hummus that simply melted together with the rich cheese.  It was wonderful to eat, but hideous to look at.  So I decided to try taking another spin at it by incorporating the same flavors into my hubs favorite - the croque sandwich.

Literally translated, croque means "crispy" as in toasty bread and cheese.  But the element I most associate with any croque-wich is the béchamel sauce on top.   This creamy seasoned milk sauce is easy to make and amazing to eat.  It's the base for creamed eggs, mac & cheese and plenty of other options.  Just cook a little butter and flour, whisk in some milk and season...voila.  C'est facile.

This little sammy is awesome.  If you take a peek at the ingredient list, the outcome is pretty much a given.  Toasty bread filled with creamy hummus, melty cheese, topped off with a butter-milk sauce and even more cheese?  Dear goodness....that's just a recipe for yum.  I even managed to sneak a little veggie action in the middle as well.  And please pardon me for once again mentioning the magical medley of hummus and cheese.  This combination is currently haunting some incredibly delicious dreams in our household.  Just try it....I have no adequate words.

Now I happen to be a bit of a weenie picky when it comes to burnt food.  If it's dark brown, I scrape it off.  So these croques are a little less toasted the the classic version, just to be on the safe side.  But if you gave them another minute under the broiler, you would reach that lovely golden luster that only toasted cheese can have.  I've found the best trick to avoid burnt crusts is to spread the béchamel all the way to the edges of the bread so that it runs over a bit while baking.  It can then act as a little buffer between your bread and the hot broiler.

The hubs was upset with me the last time I made this for only making a half batch.  One full sandwich isn't enough to satisfy him....he needs two.  I'm sure that when we make this outside of Meatless May, he'll be fine with one and a side of chicken or fish.  However, if you're hungry and meatless individuals like us, you could absolutely put away two with a side salad for dinner.

His sandwich runneth over!  And now I have one more dish to add to my comfort list.

Croque Houmous (4 sandwiches)

  • 1 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 tbs whole wheat flour (or white if you prefer)
  • 1 c milk
  • pinch each salt, pepper and ground cumin
  • 7 oz (about 1 3/4 c) havarti or gouda, grated
  • 1 oz (about 1/2 c) parmesan, grated
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
  • 4 slices bread
  • 1/2 c hummus, store-bought or homemade 
  • 1/2 c spinach
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  In a small pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat, swirling so it doesn't burn.  Add the flour and whisk together well.  Cook for about 2 minutes, until the flour develops a little color.  Add the milk and whisk until smooth.  Increase heat to medium and cook, constantly whisking, until the milk mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.....then cook for a minute or two more.  Season the milk mixture with salt, pepper and cumin to your preference.  Add 1/2 cup havarti and all the parmesan, then stir together until melted.  Remove the pot from heat and cover over to keep warm.

Place the bread slices on the prepared baking sheet.  Toast in the oven for 3-4 minutes, flipping once, until bread is barely toasted.  Remove the baking sheet and transfer the bread to a cutting board.

Spread two of the bread slices with two tablespoons of hummus each.  Lay the spinach leaves over the hummus then top with with the grated cheese, reserving about 1/2 cup to sprinkle over the béchamel.  Top with the remaining toasted bread slices, then transfer the sandwiches back to the baking sheet.  

Spoon the béchamel sauce over the sandwiches and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.  Place the baking sheet back in the oven and bake for 5-6 minutes, then turn on the broiler and cook until the cheese on top is golden and bubbling, anywhere from 1-3 minutes depending on your broiler.  Remove the pan and transfer sandwiches back to the cutting board.  Let cool for a couple minutes before slicing.  Serve with a side of spicy mustard if desired, or add an egg for a breakfast version.  

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