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Eric Akis: A croque monsieur, but give it a seasonal twist

Today I’m serving up a croque monsieur using seasonal, local ingredients.
A tasty open-faced version of croque monsieur, with ham, asparagus, sauce and cheese. ERIC AKIS

Today I’m serving up a croque monsieur using seasonal, local ingredients. Croque monsieur is French-style sandwich most often filled with cheese, such as Gruyere, and ham, that’s grilled, topped with béchamel, more cheese, and then broiled until golden, rich and divine.

My version incorporates those types of things, but rather than sandwiching two slices of bread together, I made open-faced sandwiches, where one slice of bread is attractively topped with the other ingredients.

Rather than use the French bread often used for croque monsieur, I choose a multi-grain one baked by Victoria’s Wildfire Bakery that I bought sliced at the Old Farm Market in Oak Bay. It’s nutritious and flavourful and proved to be wonderful base for the sandwiches.

After the four slices of bread I used, that yield two servings, were toasted, I lightly spread one side of them with spicy Dijon mustard and set them on a baking sheet. The bread was topped with ham, blanched asparagus spears, cheese sauce and grated cheese, and then the sandwiches were broiled until hot and quite delicious.

Instead of Gruyere, I used a wonderful, bold-flavoured Aged Farmhouse cheese made by Courtenay’s Natural Pastures Cheese Company.

I serve the sandwiches with local lettuce dressed with vinaigrette and sliced ripe, local tomatoes. B.C. asparagus is now also in season and you should be able to purchase some at stores specializing in local produce and at farm markets.

Open-Faced Asparagus and Ham Croque Monsieur

Slices of multi-grain bread adorned with mustard, ham, asparagus, cheese sauce and grated cheese, broiled until hot and delicious. Recipe could be doubled or further expanded if you’re feeding a larger group.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: about 15 minutes

Makes: two servings

12 to 16 asparagus spears

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

3/4 cup milk

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

• pinch ground nutmeg

2/3 to 3/4 cup (about 75 grams) grated Aged Farmhouse cheese or aged cheddar cheese (divided)

4 oval (about 5-inch long, 3-inch wide) slices multi-grain or other hearty whole-wheat bread

4 tsp Dijon mustard, or to taste

4 slices deli ham, such as country, Irish, black forest or honey

Bring a skillet full of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Trim each asparagus spear to be about as long as your bread slices. Save the trimmed off, lower stems of the spears for another use. Add asparagus spears to the boiling water and cook until just tender, about two to three minutes. Drain asparagus well, cool in ice-cold water, and then drain well again.

Melt butter in a small pot set over medium heat. Mix in flour and cook one to two minutes. Very slowly whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer and continually whisk until you have a lightly thickened sauce. Remove from heat; mix in half of the cheese and the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover this cheese sauce and set it aside for now.

Set an oven rack six inches below your oven’s broiler. Preheat the broiler. Place bread slices on a non-stick baking sheet. Set under the broiler, lightly toast the bread on both sides, and then remove from the oven.

Spread the top of each bread slice with 1 tsp of mustard, or to taste. Set a slice of ham on top of each bread slice. Now set three or four blanched asparagus spears on top of the ham on each bread slice. Divide and spoon cheese sauce over the asparagus and ham; sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Broil two minutes, or until the saucy topping is hot and lightly browned. Set two sandwiches on each of two plates and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.