Would this be a good place to admit that I only moderately enjoy sandwiches? I know, what kind of monster says such things! But, wait, come back. What I mean is, it’s the proportions: too much bread, too little filling. The obvious solution would be Dagwoods or sandwiches from one of those Jewish delis that are taller than your glass of Cel-Ray, but what if you didn’t want to have to unhinge your jaw just to take a bite?
My solution, as ever, is to serve them open-faced, piled high and with ideal proportions. If we were in Paris — and oh, I wish I were — we’d call them tartines. My brain is clearly already there because I modeled this “toast” on a croque monsieur (which I just learned, to my delight, translates as “gentleman crunch”), those cheese-coated, pan-fried ham and cheese sandwiches with frico for miles. I’m partial to the forestier-style croque at Buvette, where mushrooms take the place of ham and there’s a thick, Dijon-rich bechamel underneath (where a cold sandwich might enlist mayo or aioli). My open-faced version uses a whole-grain sourdough bread as a foundation and so much cheese on top that it spills down onto the baking sheet and lifts off in crispy flakes. I honestly don’t know why we’d ever want to eat anything else.
This makes an exactly-just-right amount of bechamel (3/4 cup), I use about 1 tablespoon per slice. If you’d like more, it can easily be scaled up with 3 tablespoons each butter and flour and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, and a heaped tablespoon of Dijon.
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (15 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) milk, ideally whole but lowfat should work
- A few gratings fresh nutmeg
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) smooth Dijon mustard
- 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) fresh mushrooms (cremini, white or a mix of wild all work), thinly sliced
- Olive oil and butter as needed
- 2 teaspoons minced mixed fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 pound loaf of a hearty white or whole wheat sourdough bread, in 3/4-inch slices
- 8 ounces (225 grams) coarsely grated gruyere or comte
- Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
Cook the mushrooms: Wipe out skillet and heat over medium-high. Add a glug of olive oil or a mix of olive oil and butter. Once it is very hot, add 1/3 to 1/2 of mushrooms, 1/3 to 1/2 of herbs and let sear in pan until brown underneath, about 2 to 3 minutes, before stirring and continuing to cook until tender and any liquid in the pan has cooked off, about 5 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining mushrooms.
Assemble and bake: Spread bread in one layer on prepared baking sheet. Schmear each all the way to the edges with sauce; you should have exactly enough for a thin coat on each. Heap each slice with mushrooms; use them all. Sprinkle cheese over and since the mushrooms are heaped so high, you’ll probably have to press it in a bit with your hand. You’ll be glad you got all the cheese on there.
Bake for 10 minutes, until cheese is melted all over, then transfer to the broiler and cook until tops are browned, a few minutes more (but keep an eye on it because broilers vary wildly and mine is rather weak).
To serve: Scatter with parsley and eat with a knife and fork, preferably with a big green salad on the side.