Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Not your average grilled cheese - Proscuitto Croque-Monsieur with Fig Jam

My pregnancy is coming along, normal as can be. At six months, my belly is starting to expand, although, sadly, not enough for people to take notice and give me their seat on the bus. Also, it was recently confirmed that we’re having a baby boy! We would have been happy either way, but at least now I know what kind of clothes to knit (although I have to confess a twinge of disappointment that I won’t get to make any of the adorable little dresses I’ve seen – oh well, maybe next time!)

This is supposed to become a kaftan, eventually...

Paprika loves to play with my needles and yarn!

I keep being asked whether I’ve been having any cravings, but I have to say no, not really. Nothing weird, at any rate – none of those strange combinations you keep hearing about. Just the usual hankering for a spoonful of peanut butter mid-afternoon, or a chocolate rush late evening, but that’s normal for me. A few of the food restrictions surrounding pregnancy have been driving me crazy, though. Some days, I would kill for a sunny-side-up egg with a lovely runny yolk. But even partially raw eggs are apparently off-limits. So for another three months, it’s well-cooked scrambled eggs for brunch. Yet another thing that’s dumb about the Twilight saga, in which a pregnant Bella scarfs down sunny-side-ups like they were popcorn. (And yes, I read the Twilight books, because I wanted to see for myself if they were as bad as they were rumoured to be. They were, on a lot of levels. Although I did kind of enjoy bits of the final book, where there was at least an attempt at world-building.)

The most annoying restriction, however, has got to be the one banishing deli meats and charcuterie, for fear of listeria, salmonella, and other lovely bacteria that I’m more than willing to brave on a regular day, but which my baby is not quite equipped to handle just yet. I’ve been a sandwich girl since forever. Lunch, for me, equals a sandwich. Pregnancy has already taken delicious smoked salmon away from me (oh, how I long for a poached egg with a side of lox!), but what am I supposed to do without my proscuitto, saucisson, country ham, mortadella, and pâté? Switch to tuna, you say? Sorry, that’s on the “not recommended” list (because of mercury levels).

I’m actually exaggerating. In reality, deli meats are okay as long as they’re cooked and served still steaming, as this kills the bacteria. So a pepperoni pizza is fine (thank God, because pizza was my go-to food in the beginning). So is a panini, provided it’s heated through. But since cold cuts don’t keep very long in the fridge (again, on a normal day, I wouldn’t think twice about eating week-old ham, but I’m playing it safe these days), and I don’t feel like going to the deli everyday to ask for two slices of proscuitto, I’ve pretty much gotten into the habit of having grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.

I don’t fuss much for these sandwiches: I just toss some cheese shavings (good cheese, though – I can treat myself to that much, at least) between two slices of whole wheat bread, heat up the panini grill, and that’s that. Quick, simple, fairly healthy – and safe.

But the other day, when I brunched with friends at the Passé Composé café, where I had never been before, I was reminded of just how delicious and decadent a grilled cheese can be. Because, for the first time in a long time, I was served an honest-to-goodness, proper, true blue croque-monsieur.

In France and Belgium, a traditional croque-monsieur is made with square sandwich bread, ham, and gruyère or emmental cheese. The bread is generously buttered on the outside, then pan-fried until it’s golden brown, and the cheese inside is melted. The most basic version stops there. I’ve often seen the sandwich then topped with more cheese and cooked au gratin. You can also top it with a fried egg (why do eggs keep popping into my writing today?) and call it a croque-madame. And, well, endless variations abound from there on, but that’s the gist of it. From what I understand, grilled cheese can also be made in this manner (minus the ham), but grilled cheese can also come out of a panini machine, or the oven; not so for a croque-monsieur, at least not in my book.

I’ve stopped ordering croque-monsieur in Montreal cafés, because I’m never sure what I’m going to get. I’ve gotten paninis. I’ve been served giant stuffed baguette melts. I’ve been presented with sad, open-faced English muffins topped with dry ham and barely melted cheese. The general consensus seems to be that, if it has ham and cheese in it, you can call it a croque-monsieur and thereby hope to appeal to French tourists looking for familiar comfort food. I’m not French, nor am I a tourist. So I stopped. If I want a baguette melt, I’ll ask for it, damn it.

But at Passé Composé, the sandwiches were the real deal. They were called grilled cheese, and they had non-traditional ingredients, like portobello mushrooms and goat cheese, but they were undeniably prepared as croque-monsieurs. And boy, were they good. So good that I dragged Laurent in to try them the week after, and then tried to recreate one of them at home. For dinner, because this is definitely worthy of dinner.

I feel rather silly giving a recipe for a sandwich. Just goes to show how much I love this one. For the cheese, I used Chèvre Noir, a two-year-old goat cheddar cheese that has impressive flavour for such a relatively young cheese, and a current favourite of mine. And I confess, I used bottled balsamic glaze. Balsamic reduction is like jam and preserves for me: I know how to do them, I just don’t have the patience.

Proscuitto Croque-Monsieur with Fig Jam

Serves one

2 slices good quality bread, preferably a day old (walnut bread works great here)
2 tbsp fig jam
2 slices proscuitto
Sharp cheddar cheese, sliced or shaved (amount depends on the surface of your bread)
1 tsp balsamic glaze
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Spread the fig jam on both slices of bread. Garnish one slices of bread with half the cheese and the proscuitto, drizzle on the balsamic glaze, garnish with the remaining cheese, and top with the second slice of bread.

Heat a skillet over just-above-medium heat. Generously brush both sides of your sandwich with butter. Fry in skillet, turning over once, until cheese is melted and both sides are golden-to-dark brown (about 4 minutes per side). Serve immediately with an arugula salad on the side.


  1. This lovely post made me smile,...a lot! :) Congrats on having a baby boy! I also love a good home-made croque-monsieur & yours is a special one, I agree! :=) MMMMMMM,...! You knit well! I haven't got the skill at all! :)

  2. Yay congrats on the boy. oh and don't think the belly will make people give you there seat so much unfortunately. But you can ask them to move....its your right. I did with the cast. Hard to avoid foods you love but that grill cheese looks awesome. They are so IN right now too.

  3. Congrats on the bun being a baby boy, Val! I can't stop smiling looking at those photos of you knitting the caftan - you look so beautiful and radiant with your little baby belly :) The Croque-Monsieur is killing me because the addition of fig jam is perfection. I wrap figs and dates in prosciutto all the time, so combine that with melty, gooey cheese and balsamic glaze.. and it's a sandwich made in heaven! When I make this..of course I'll be thinking of you knitting, with Paprika swatting at the yarn LOL

  4. Valarie, I'm so glad your pregnancy is proceeding without problems. You'll soon be holding that little guy in your arms and your life will change. As there is no good segue, I'll jump right in and tell you that sandwich sounds delicious. I'd love to try it. Have a wonderful weekend. Blessings...Mary

  5. It's so great to see pictures of you with your baby bump! This post is perfect for today--it's cold and rainy here and that makes me want grilled cheese and soup. And I've been knitting a lot recently, which is odd for me. Hope you're well!

  6. Hope you're doing well, Mama. Thinking of you and your little bun xo

  7. Woohoo... A baby boy! Congratulations! Love that pic of you and Paprika...:) and can I confess I actually liked the twilight books? ( blushing slightly now...) I'm a sucker for vampire stories I guess!
    Now I can so understand your cravings for all the delicious stuff you can't have! Eggs sunny side up are among my favorite foods too. Love m... Now a good croque Monsieur is also delicious but I do tend to only eat those in France to avoid the obvious disappointment. Love the thought of the prosciutto and fig jam!

  8. Val!! Once again..thinking of you and hoping all is well. You've been MIA for so long, I'm a little worried! I guess getting ready for baby boy is taking up quite a bit of time *HUGS* Miss you!

  9. You're probably having fun with your new born, but we hope to read you soon here !

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