Saturday morning we woke up hungry and as usual didn’t know what to eat. Fighting off the urge to settle on a bowl of cereal I did a quick scan of the kitchen and decided. A Croque Madame would do nicely.
There are several variations of Croque Madame but the general idea is that you basically make a Croque Monsieur, add bechamel sauce, broil in the oven, and add a pan-fried sunny-side up egg on top. The way I make it varies a little every time I make it depending on what ingredients I have and what mood I’m in. It’s always good no matter how I end up making it. The picture above is one I made a while ago.
I don’t really have an exact recipe but for the bechamel sauce for 4 Croque Madames I put about 2 tbsp of butter in a small sauce pan on medium heat. I then add a quarter cup of flour and stir it together until it forms a paste and keep stirring of and on for a couple of minutes until it browns a little. I then add a cup of milk, salt to taste, some pepper, and a small pinch of nutmeg. Stir often until it begins to thicken, then turn the heat to low and continue stirring often until it is thick enough to stick to a spoon. Take it off the heat when done.
For the sandwiches I use whatever bread I have but prefer to use slices of a crusty French country bread, two slices per sandwich. You can cut one large slice in two if the slices are large as these are pretty filling. I heat a pan on medium-low, spread some butter on one side of the slices and toast them in the pan, not hard, toasted. The toasted sides will be the outside of the sandwich. When done take the bread out of the pan and spread some Dijon mustard on the untoasted side. Add a slice of natural ham, a slice of swiss cheese, and close the sandwich. Put the sandwich on an oven tray and repeat with as many sandwiches as you want to make. When the sandwiches are all on the tray spread bechamel sauce over each one letting it run down the sides, then place the tray in the oven on low broil.
Put a little butter in the frying pan you used to toast the bread and fry one sunny side up egg per sandwich. When the sandwiches are done remove from the oven, place each sandwich on a plate, and place a sunny side up egg on top. Done!
It sounds like a lot of work but once you have done it three or four times it takes less time to do as you get the groove down. I guess that you could also prepare the sandwiches the evening before, take them out in the morning, then just make the bechamel, spread over the sandwiches, pop them in the oven, and fry the eggs.
Artichokes alla Romana
This is one I like to make whenever I find reasonably priced artichokes. If you’ve seen some of the outrageously priced artichokes the stores try to sell, you know what I mean. $4-5 per? I don’t think so. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you they usually have reasonably priced artichokes, the small ones or the large ones. For this dish I use the large ones as they work best. If you’re looking for artichokes you dip in mayonnaise, this isn’t it. I’m not snobby, just partial to the style of cooking I grew up with – which did not include much mayonnaise.I use one large artichoke per person. Because of the size it’s hard to fit more than 4 or 5 in a pan so I make this as a side dish.
Prepare the artichokes by pulling off the toughest outer leaves, usually a layer or so, and cut off about a quarter or a third of the top of the leaves to cut off all the sharp tips. The top of the artichoke needs to be flat so you can lay them upside down on the bottom of the pan. You can use scissors to trim off the sharp tips of the shorter leaves. I use a vegetable peeler to peel the stems, and cut off just the very end which is usually dark and a little dry. Do not throw the waste into the garbage disposal in your sink as you will regret it.Slice about a clove of garlic per artichoke and a handful of Italian parsley (flat or curly – doesn’t matter). Now for the work.
Take each artichoke by the stem, and press it down against the cutting board to spread out the leaves a little. If the leaves are pretty thick I sort of slam the choke down on the board to get the job done. Then stuff the garlic slices and parsley between the leaves, pushing them in so it doesn’t all come falling out when you flip them over to put them in the pan. Salt to taste and rub it in well.
Heat up a deep pan or pot – deep enough to cover the artichokes standing up and not enough room for the chokes to fall over – on the stove a little over medium heat (6 or 7 on my stove), and put in about 1/3 cup of olive oil. How much olive oil exactly depends on the width of your pan, but you want the artichoke to sit in about 1/4″ deep. Put the artichokes in the pan upside down and let them brown for 30 seconds to a minute. Add a 1/2 cup or so white wine, and enough water to almost cover the artichokes, about 3/4″ – 1″ before the stem. I like to sprinkle a pinch or two of salt over the outer leaves and stem too for a little more flavor. Bring it all up to a boil, then reduce and simmer covered for about 45 minutes to an hour, adding some water if necessary.
When done the water should be reduced by half or more, but the pan should never get dry. Remove from pan and plate. Spoon some of the pan juices over each artichoke. To eat simply pluck the leaves off one at a time and, using your front teeth, scrape the meat from the bottom third or so of the leaf while sucking on it. When you get down to the middle you might want to discard the very small soft leaves, or suck on the juices then discard them. Not very graceful I’m sure but so good. Just don’t let the juices run down to your elbows. To eat the heart, cut off the beard (the hairy stuff) and eat the heart and the stem.
Italian breaded chicken
With my car stuck in snow I’ve spent the past few days working from home. I had been having a craving for breaded chicken earlier in the week and now had the chance to make some as I wasn’t coming home right around dinner time, as I usually do. It’s easy to make but takes a little time to fry the chicken. I had two or three pounds of chicken breast which I sliced pretty thin, then I made a little assembly line with the chicken in one plate, 3 scrambled eggs in a bowl next to it, a plate with italian-style bread crunbs to which I added salt, pepper, chopped parsley and grated parmesan, and finally a frying pan with olive oil on medium to medium-high (6 on my stove). I fried the chicken for 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden brown then transferred them to a plate lined with two sheets of paper towel and repeated the process until I was done, adding more oil to the pan as needed. It was delicious. There were enough leftovers to make sandwiches for lunch the next day which was a bonus.
Italian breaded chicken