QUICK COOK: Mini croque monsieurs make grilled cheese even better

These little Croque Monsieurs make charming appetizers for your next party.

In France, croque monsieurs are served in cafes and bars as a snack. Every food seems to taste better in its French derivation and these grilled ham and cheese sandwiches are no exception. The difference is a rich bechamel, a white sauce made from a roux base (a cooked butter-and-flour paste) and flavored with nutmeg. I add fresh lemon, too.

You can serve this recipe, of course, as whole sandwiches for lunch, brunch or dinner. Or you can cut the sandwiches in quarters or sixths and serve them as appetizers, speared with toothpicks. However you choose to serve them, you’ll be transported to France with every mouthwatering bite.

Ham and Gruyere Croque Monsieur

Makes 6 large or 36 appetizer-size sandwiches

Ingredients12 slices sourdough sandwich bread, crusts removed

Sauce bechamel:4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour2 cups milk

1 tablespoon chives, minced, plus more chives to garnish

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

Sandwiches:1½ cups (8 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese

6 slices good quality deli ham, cut in quarters

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided

INSTRUCTIONSHeat oven to 325 degrees. Place bread sliced on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for about 3 minutes to dry out the bread (or simply leave the bread out the night before so the slices dry out).

For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Stir in the flour, until completely blended. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth. Bring the sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until sauce thickens and no floury taste remains, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let the sauce cool slightly, stirring occasionally. Add chives, nutmeg, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper and let the sauce cool completely.

Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Place about 3 tablespoons of shredded cheese on each piece of bread, top with a slice of ham, add another 3 tablespoons of cheese and then top with a second piece of bread.

In a large skillet, melt about 2 tablespoons of the butter over moderate heat. Cook the sandwiches, turning once, until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer sandwiches to a sheet pan, leaving a little space between each one. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches, using 2 tablespoons of butter per batch. If making appetizer portions, cut each sandwich into 6 little square or rectangular sandwiches.

Top with bechamel, using 1-2 tablespoons of sauce for little sandwiches or 3-4 for larger sandwiches. Top with remaining cheese and bake until bubbling, 5 to 7 minutes. Garnish with a crisscross of chives and serve, speared with toothpicks.

Bibby Gignilliat is the founder of Parties That Cook, a San Francisco-based culinary event company; www.PartiesThatCook.com.

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