What I have made here is probably a heresy, having taken an iconic Parisian invention from 1901 and made a gluten free version. Traditionally this snack is made with bread, not baguette but pain de mie, a slightly sweetened version of the white sandwich loaf.
Most people who come to France without speaking French, will know at least a few words or phrases. Thanks to passionate enthusiasts like Julia Child, these include at the top of the list; Bonjour, Bon Appétit, baguette, croissant and croque-monsieur. If you check on-line you will find this latter suggested as one of the top French snacks to try .
Outside Paris and the major big cities of France, meal times are sacrosanct, and hotels and restaurants have chefs, kitchen and waiting staff only to cook and serve food within these well-defined hours. Here in the countryside we have a convent bell that rings at 12 midday and 7 in the evening, just in case you have forgotten it was time to eat! On the 14th of July though, all things change here as we welcome the Summer tourists from Paris and all along the sea front, the cafés, bars and beach-front eateries are open all day. Although you will still only get dishes, like our local seafood and saltmeadow lamb at the usual mealtimes, you will get croque-monsieur, chips (French fries), galettes and crêpes at 'any hour'.
There is a whole host of what might be considered as traditional French street, snack or fast food, although this can vary in authenticity and palatability. The ubiquitous croque-monsieur is no exception. It was a long time ago but I still have vivid memories of a Parisian bistro, micro-waved version, served complete with black cellophane!
Step 1: Ingredients
A foreword about the ingredients
All the ingredients I am using are organic but they are acquired in a very inexpensive way. The ham I am using is top-of-the-range Parma (prosciutto). I buy the end piece or hock. This is a very expensive ham that is eaten raw here in France as a starter and people expect to get a whole thin slice each, so when it gets down to the hock, no one really knows what to do with it. I get it from my butcher for 5 Euros, which is about a tenth of the usual price. Using a good sharp knife I can still hand cut thin slices for use in a whole range of dishes.
The cream I get directly from a local organic farm. The potatoes we grow or I buy in bulk and the cheese is cut off the whole cheese on the deli counter and there is usually at least one hard cheese on offer so I use that.
What type of potato to use:
To make the base of this dish I need a specific type of potato, one that will mash. I am using Ditta and Agria, (photo above), what in French are called 'firm' and 'tender' potatoes and are locally grown. Agria is referred to in English as general purpose and Ditta as waxy. So whatever varieties of potatoes are grown in your country, just look for these two descriptions. That way you will get something that will hold its shape.
Potatoes - for amount see method in the next step
Ham - sliced finely - approximately 2 large slices or equivalent
Two large heaped spoons of raw cream
Approximately 80 grams or 3oz of grated cheese. This one is the raw milk hard cheese Emmental
Butter to grease the dish.
I'm using a dish that is 25cm or 10" square, with an internal depth of 25mm or 1".
A potato masher.
TEMPERATURE AND TIMES
The whole cooking time is around 20 minutes. The oven is pre-heated to 240°C or 460°F
Step 2: METHOD
Take a weight of cooked potato equivalent to the amount you would make in pastry to line your chosen dish. You can add more depending on how hungry you are, thus how thick you want the base to be! Decide by the state of the skins whether or not to peel your potatoes. Hand mashing is best, mechanical appliances tend to make for a gluey texture in my experience.
Press the mash potato into a well-buttered dish and then cook at the temperature indicated in Step 2 on a high shelf until the base is firm-ish to the touch and the edges are beginning to crisp up. This takes around 8 to 10 minutes.
Chop the ham slices into smaller pieces and then add them to the base. Mix the grated cheese with the cream
Dot this over the ham and base. Season with black pepper.
Cook for another 10 minutes on a high shelf or until the cheese and cream mix has formed a melted golden layer over the whole surface.
Step 3: Turn a Snack Into a Meal
Adding a green salad and a glass of local cider can make this Croque-monsieur into a lunch or supper.
You can also as a variation make the mash into individual little cakes and put the topping on them. This way you can have bite-sized croques (croquer actually means to bite in French).
If you'd like to see us making the above organic cider with friends at their farm in Basse Normandie then you can watch the film, where I do the commentary and Andy (Instructable 'Organikmechanic') helped with the hard work, that is except pumping the apple juice into the vats.
Bon Appétit from a farmhouse in Normandie and if you want to see any more of our recipes then please feel free to visit http://simplyorganicrecipes.blogspot.com
All the very best, Sue