Quintessentially French, this cheese sandwich is the perfect way to start the day.
After spending most of this month in Paris, I have returned feeling more connected with food than ever. There is something innate about the way in which the French cherish, enjoy and celebrate the long-standing relationship their country has with its food and maybe more importantly, its producers and the people who bring it to market. On closer inspection, you start to notice the formula and how incredibly simple their approach to food really is – butcher shops sell meat, bread shops sell bread, cheese shops sell cheese, and so it continues. But the magic of the smaller niche retailer is not so much in the produce (however a welcome outcome) but rather the people behind it and, in more cases than not, generations mastering a trade and sharing the fruits of their labour with the local community. Supermarkets don’t dominate the market place and in-fact are pretty much reserved for more of life’s essential items. There is obviously a place and need for supermarkets but I can’t help but wonder, how much of our food culture is lost due to their success here in Australia? For me, I would much rather have a conversation with my local butcher about the produce I am feeding my family, than a cut-out figure of a celebrity chef who, in more cases than not, doesn’t even live in Australia. The rise and success of farmers’ markets proves that we, like the French, value where our food comes from and as consumers need more than clever marketing campaigns. The only real guarantee for consistent quality is if the person behind produce has the skills, passion and pride in what they are providing you. There is no replacement for human relationships, no matter the context, and if we nurture the ones with the people who grow, prepare and sell the produce we feed our family, we too will create a sustainable food culture for generations to come. Croque Madame (makes 4) Quintessentially French, this cheese sandwich is the perfect way to start the day. I often serve it with homemade chili jam – not so French! Ingredients • 8 slices of sourdough bread • 8 thin slices of double-smoked ham • 8 slices of Gruyère cheese • 4 free range eggs – fried sunny side up Béchamel • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour • 2 cups milk • Salt • White pepper • Nutmeg • 70g grated Gruyère cheese Béchamel Method 1. Melt the butter over a medium heat and add the flour. 2. Stir until combined and allow to cook for four to five minutes. 3. Add the milk, one cup after the other, and whisk until there are no lumps and the mixture begins to thicken, around 10 to 15 minutes on a medium heat. 4. Add the grated cheese. 5. Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste. Sandwich 6. Toast the slices of sourdough. 7. Layer-up four slices of the toasted bread with cheese, ham and more cheese. Complete with the sandwich with the remaining bread lids. 8. Spread a thick layer of the Béchamel over the top and grill the sandwiches until bubbling and brown. 9. Place a fried egg on top of each sandwich and serve with some crunchy lettuce. twitter.com/annabelleats