Inspiration comes from weird places sometimes. While scrolling through Instagram recently I noticed someone trying to pass off something as a croque monsieur that was anything but, and following some stewing over it, I was inspired to dedicate one of our upcoming Friday night pizzas to adapting a croque monsieur to a pie.
I’ve written about the croque monsieur and madame in this space before: in essence, it’s an open-face sandwich with ham, béchamel sauce, Gruyere cheese, and sometimes some mustard and herbes de Provence to finish it. It’s utterly delicious, but it’s very rich which is why I would never try to make a “healthy” version of it; it’s simply not possible.
(Did I mention that the interpretation I spotted was meant to be a “healthy” version of a croque monsieur? It was, and that somehow made it even more egregious.)
Adapting this classic recipe into a pizza was pretty straightforward: instead of bread, my pizza dough was the carby vessel to hold all of this richness, and I topped the pizza with whole-grain mustard, a layer of good ham, some bechamel sauce (which I was mindful to whisk vigorously off the heat to ensure that it wouldn’t heat the dough), and some Gruyere cheese before gently depositing in onto a Baking Steel ina blazing hot oven. Using a mix of herbs I from my garden and what I had in the fridge, I made a fresh mix of quasi-herbes de Provence of rosemary, lavender, thyme, and basil, and I waited to scatter them on the dough until it came out and they fried instantly in the hot cheese and bechamel sauce.
While we enjoyed it on a warm early spring evening, I could easily see myself making this for a Sunday brunch, serving it with a salad of mixed greens and drinking a glass of Chablis. In fact, I should probably plan on doing just that before the weather makes turning an oven on incomprehensible.
Croque monsieur pizza
- 1 ball of pizza dough–this is my preferred recipe these days, plus extra bread flour for dusting
- 1-2 TB whole grain mustard
- 3 oz thinly-sliced ham (I really, really like Fra’ Mani’s rosemary ham)
- 1 ½ TB unsalted butter
- 3 TB all-purpose flour
- 1 cup hot milk
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
- 2 small sprigs rosemary
- 2 small sprigs lavender (optional)
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2-3 fat basil leaves
Equipment: Baking Steel or pizza stone; in a pinch you can use an upturned sheet pan, atrend a pizza peel.
Place your Baking Steel or pizza stone on the second-highest rack of your oven and crank the oven to its highest temperature.
Mince the rosemary and lavender leaves, strip the thyme leaves off their branches, and finely cut the basil and combine them in a small ramekin; set aside.
Dust the pizza peel with the bread flour and start stretching the dough, adding more flour as the dough needs it, stretching it to a width of 10 inches and leaving a ring around the edge for the crust. Make sure that the dough is able to shift on the peel, and add more flour if needed to achieve this.
Make the béchamel sauce: in a small saucepan, melt the butter on low heat, and then add the flour and cook until the butter has been absorbed into the flour and it smells slightly nutty, which should only take a minute or two. Add the hot milk (a couple of minutes in the microwave does this fast) and start whisking vigorously to dissolve the roux into the milk and raise the heat to medium. Season the béchamel with salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg, and continue to whisk until the sauce reduces to a thick, creamy consistency. Take the sauce off of the heat completely, and continue to whisk the sauce in order to let it cool off enough to not melt the dough.
When the sauce is cool, assemble the pizza: spread the mustard on the dough first, then lay the slices of ham onto the dough. Add the bechamel sauce and the cheese, and carefully transfer the dough from the peel to the steel or stone by gently working it off of the peel.
Bake the pizza for about 5 minutes, and then switch to the broiler for another five minutes. About halfway through the broiling, carefully turn the pizza 180 degrees to get even browning on the crust. When the crust is brown and the cheese and sauce are bubbling, remove the pizza from the oven with the peel or spatulas, sprinkle the pizza with the herbs, and let the pizza rest for at least five minutes before serving.
Slice into wedges and serve.