Ham sandwiches in Mornay sauce
Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
One of the classic and repeated punchline topics on the beloved 90s sitcom “Friends” is the character Joey’s love for sandwiches. They are his favorite food, and across all 10 seasons, he can be found wolfing down a meatball sub or an Italian hoagie at inopportune times. It is a fun show, and the punchlines work because they speak to Joey’s lack of sophistication. Sandwiches are a fitting favorite for this man child because they require little finesse or sophistication to appreciate. As I have chuckled about Joey’s sandwich-related foibles, however, I have also harbored a bit of embarrassment; like Joey, I love a good sandwich.
Sandwiches sort of bring everything good together all in one tidy and convenient package. On a really rough day, I’ve been known to eat a sandwich over the sink, saving myself the trouble of doing any dishes beyond rinsing whatever knife I might have used to spread mayonnaise, mustard or peanut butter. It is my theory that the flavor of almost anything is enhanced when it’s stuffed between two pieces of bread – ideally that bread will be soft and fresh, but even a few pieces of humble toast will do in a pinch.
There is almost nothing a sandwich can not do. Thanksgiving leftovers are transformed from dry and bland to delicious and satisfying when they are in a sandwich. Garden-ripe tomatoes tucked between pieces of sturdy white country bread with a schmear of mayo or even just a dusting of salt is a summertime revelation. Once, I was served a piece of roasted squash on a sandwich. Puzzled, I took a nibble and was delighted to find that the balance between the softness of the squash and the firmness of the bread produced a dish that was so delicious I gobbled the whole thing, leaving nary a crumb behind.
Sandwiches work as well for fancy feasts as they do for late-night snacks, and it is easy to dress up a sandwich to make it festive and special. Sometimes, simply trimming the crust will do the trick (think cucumbers on buttered bread served at a sumptuous tea.) Beautifully fresh bread and top-quality fillings are a must, particularly for a special occasion. Complex flavor combinations are key, too – think mango chutney with chicken salad or smoked salmon on toast points with chive-laced cream cheese.
The sandwich recipe I have shared here is, at it’s heart, a ham and cheese. This elevated version of a timeless classic, though, is warm and satisfying. It’s messy enough to require the use of a knife and fork – another mark of a great sandwich. I favor the use of small dinner rolls with a slightly sweet flavor (Costco makes my favorite rolls for this recipe) but they are also decadent and scrumptious served on cocktail-sized croissants. Drizzled in a Swiss cheese and onion sauce, they are baked until they are golden and bubbly. Now that spring has arrived, this dish is perfect for all the sorts of parties that go along with it: Mother’s Day, graduations, bridal showers and baby showers. Serve these beauties, and you will transform your lunch into a luncheon.
Ham sandwiches in Mornay sauce
8-10 small dinner rolls or cocktail-sized croissants
8-10 slices ham
5 ½ tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (reduced-fat or whole)
4 ounces shredded Swiss cheese
4 tablespoons minced onion
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Split rolls or croissants and stuff with slices of ham. Place in a greased 9×13 pan and set aside. Cook the minced onion in the butter until slightly soft. Add flour and whisk over medium heat until the flour is well incorporated and the mixture is frothy, about one minute. Add the milk, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Season with salt and pepper and reduce the heat, cooking for about four minutes or until the mixture thickens. Remove the mixture from the heat and add the cheese, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Pour about two-thirds of the mixture over and around the sandwiches and cook for 40 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately, with reserved sauce on the side.