I have not eaten my usual August/September quota of tomatoes this year, and it makes me feel like I just let an important piece of paper fly away in the wind, gone forever. Typically, I'm mainlining tomatoes now for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because they just never taste as essentially tomatoey as they do these few weeks of early fall. But through a series of weekends with other plans, I just haven't made it to the Farmer's Market with my usual diligence, hence the tomato deficiency.
Marney to the rescue! My favorite friend/neighbor/co-worker Marney came through like a champ last night and donated two big ruby red beefsteak beauties along with at least a cup of little cherry tomatoes from her garden. The little guys were a great snack at work today, and the big boys were destined for dinner.
My favorite restaurant in Minneapolis, Barbette, has a sandwich on the late night menu called a Croque Madame. In French, I think this translates to "Mrs. Crunchy" (I don't speak French so I could be mistaken). It's traditionally supposed to be a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, smothered in a cheesy bechamel sauce, and topped with a runny fried egg. Figures - usual French decadence. The Barbette version subs in roasted tomatoes for the ham. My version is even lighter yet, but still bistro-quality elegant and very tasty.
To really ensure the wow factor with this humble dinner, first make sure your tomatoes are at peak ripeness. Then, buy (or make) the highest quality fresh artisan bread you can find (Rustica, in the Mpls metro area), and if possible source out the real deal cave-aged French gruyere cheese. Buying fresh local free-range brown speckled eggs is up to you but I think it's worth the effort and extra buck or two. Serve with something green - a mixed green salad or sauteed kale and onions. Just like that, you've turned your kitchen into a French bistro, with food that's lighter and just as delicious.
By the way, Barbette's version of this sandwich is $10. I think this sandwich at home cost me (even with top shelf ingredients) about $1.50, and that's estimating very high. For ten bucks, I could have made enough of these sandwiches to feed about 8 people.
Croque Madame, inspired by Barbette in Minneapolis
1 half inch thick slice artisan bread (mine was a center slice of Rustica's Miche)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp or more dijon mustard (I like the coarse grainy style)
Thin sliced gruyere cheese (can substitute swiss)
2 or more quarter inch thick slices fresh garden tomatoes, lightly salted on both sides
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Butter both sides of your bread, put it on a sheet pan and toast for a few minutes until the bottom gets golden brown.
Flip the toasty bread over and spread a thick layer of mustard on the golden brown toasty bread. Add a layer of cheese and top with tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is melty. Feel free to pop this under the broiler at this point for a minute or two to help get a nice heat on the tomatoes and finish melting the cheese (I did).
While baking/broiling, gently fry your egg over medium-low heat until it has reached your desired doneness. Top sandwich with egg and eat with a fork and knife.
ONE YEAR AGO: Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna and Quinoa
TWO YEARS AGO: Cherry Tomato Tart
THREE YEARS AGO: Rainbow Rollup