Last month, our book club read A Moveable Feast, a collection of food stories published by Lonely Planet. When I went to buy it on flipkart like I do every month, the first book to show up was in fact another book by the same name. The “other” Moveable feast turned out be Ernest Hemingway’s memoirs, written as a young man living in Paris in the 1920s. This is the time before “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. And way before “The Old Man and the Sea”. No wonder I ended up ordering this book of memoirs instead of what the club had planned.
And what a feast this book is. This is Paris is 1920s, a haunt of American artists. Hemingway has not yet made it as a writer so he is as poor as a church mouse. But you can’t say the same of the people he hobnobs with. His friends and associates – Gertrude Stein, Erza Pound, Scott Fitzgerald – famous yet eccentric all of them, feature more prominently than the author himself.
In between these friendships and conversations, there are a lot of Parisian cafes. But there is mostly drinking and very little eating. Oh! what a life these footloose Americans had! The book had me in stitches with its humorous bent.
And wrong book it might be, it still prompted me to cook. Parisian bistro fare is what I wanted to make and my brain just screamed one dish – croque monsieur. It’s originally a ham and cheese sandwich but I made it in a vegetarian version. There are quite a few components to the dish:
Bread: Nothing too soft, crusty baguettes work but day old white bread is classic and that’s what I used.
Instead of ham: I have sautéed mushrooms. Sliced 5-6 mushrooms thinly. Heated a tsp of olive oil in a pan, added mushrooms and stirred until they started to exude some water. Then let them cook until the moisture all evaporated and the mushrooms were cooked through. Seasoned lightly with salt and dried oregano.
Bechamel Sauce (trust me, you will need it soon!): Warm ½ cup milk. Heat ½ tbsp butter in a pan. Reduce the heat to low and add ½ tbsp flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute. It should not brown. Add the milk slowly, stirring all the while so you get no lumps. Let cook for another minute or two until the sauce thickens a bit. I usually have to stir it all the time to get rid of any lumps. Add salt and pepper.
The Sandwich: Set your oven to preheat to 250C (or your broiler or grill, whatever works for you – I only have this one oven!). Butter one side of two slices of bread. Take one of the slices and dab some mustard on the unbuttered side. Arrange mushrooms in a single layer and add a layer of gruyere cheese. Top with the second slice and pan fry the sandwich until both sides are lightly browned.
Spread a thin layer of béchamel sauce on top of the sandwich. Its traditional to add more gruyere cheese on top but I varied the routine and decided on parmesan instead. Pop this under the grill for a couple of minutes until the cheese melts and starts to brown.