“And so, the first pedal has been turned in ANGER!”
It’s July. For some people that means summer hours, vacations, weekends at the beach or in the country (at least, for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Around here, July means one thing: le Tour de France.
I’m not really sure when or why we started watching the tour; maybe 5 or 6 years ago? You might think it would be mind-numbing to spend 21 straight days watching men ride bicycles for 4 and 5 hours at a stretch, often in a straight line all bunched together like 5-year-olds playing soccer, but you would be OH SO WRONG. It is complicated and exciting and riveting and we are COMPLETELY HELPLESS ADDICTS. I have a fantasy cycling team. I am not kidding.
“The pirate is about to board the ship.”
I’d estimate that a full 50% of the draw is Phil Liggett. Phil Liggett is a veteran British cycling commentator who’s called the tour every year since the late ’70s. He himself was never more than an amateur cyclist, but he loves the sport with an all-consuming and somewhat frightening love not entirely unlike Lenny’s love of the rabbit. Any minor happening in the race is a cause for tremendous excitement and boisterous but cryptic pronouncements that he pulls from the ether; many times, he’s so excited that he’s unable to be factually correct (“And they’re bearing down on the line!! No, the line is still 500 meters away!!”). Sometimes he’s yelling at us, sometimes at the riders and sometimes just yelling for the pure joy of it, but it’s always interesting.
All of today’s captions are actual phrases that have been exclaimed by Phil in a non-ironic manner while commentating a bike race.
It is for Phil and in honor of Le Tour that I made Croque Madames, as done by excellent local bistro Madame Claude’s, for dinner tonight. While I’m pretty sure I could subsist on Madame Claude’s cafe au lait and croissants with homemade jam for the rest of my life, I’m also a sucker for the Croque Madame: a toasty ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top, and a big pile of salad on the side.
“The Tour chooses its champions where the mountains bear the snows of winter.”
The Croque Madame is a (better) variation on the Croque Monsiuer, a melted ham and gruyere sandwich sans egg. Every cafe that makes croques has its own way; sometimes a croque is topped with bechamel and broiled, sometimes with a veloute (a bechamel with cheese), sometimes the cheese is on top, sometimes on the inside. However its assembled, though, the foundations are always the same: thick slices of good toasted bread, warm ham, oozey melted cheese.
Madame Claude makes a simple version – no sauce, just good bread stuffed with ham and gruyere, topped with more cheese and then quickly broiled. I added a smidge of dijon mustard to help boost the flavor of PathMark ham. I’ve never cooked in a French bistro, but I’m pretty sure that PathMark brand ham and cheese are not their ingredients of choice.
“Don’t look back. You know what’s going on back there because you just left.”
It’s so true, you know? If only Phil had been around to provide color commentary for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Luckily, I wasn’t restricted to PathMark’s offerings for the bread, arguably the most important component of any good sandwich. A restaurant on my walk home from the subway buys extra Balthazar baguettes every day and sells them off in the afternoon, so I can always swing by and grab some wonderful bread without having to go out of my way.
I sliced it on the diagonal to maximize the surface area for sandwich fixins’ and made a bunch of wee little ham and swiss sammiches. (PathMark not tending to carry gruyere. Plus, the smell of gruyere makes me wretch ever since an 8th-grade French class field trip to see Les Miserables where we ate at a truly wretched theater district fondue restaurant.) They spent a few minutes in a hot pan with some butter to brown and crisp before I heaped a generous additional amount of cheese on top and slid them under the broiler.
“The weather is something of a damp squid.”
I just watched the end of today’s Tour stage, and I’m on the edge of my fucking seat. GODDAMN.
I briefly considered and then rejected poached eggs; too fancy. While I kept an eye on the broiler and fried up some eggs, Brian threw together a quick vinaigrette – mustard to emulsify, red wine vinegar, olive oil – for a vibrant head of red-leaf lettuce left from our last CSA box that needed to be consumed post-haste to make room for the additional produce that came today.
It’s my first year with a CSA. I love it, but I also predict a lot of vegetable-related guilt this summer.
“He’s really having to dig deeply into the suitcase of courage.”*
I piled my plate with salad, added 2 little sandwiches and slid an egg on top.
PathMark ham aside, this was a satisfying dinner. You can’t go wrong with a crispy, buttery, melty ham and cheese sandwich. The yolks were still nice and runny, with some creamy whites. The red-leaf lettuce had a slight bite that, with the vinaigrette, was a nice wake-up call between bites of cheesy sandwich.
If you’ve never had a croque I implore you to make one, and make it soon. If you’ve never watched the tour, I implore you to just watch the last 5 minutes of a stage; aside from often being the most exciting part of the race, its also the part where Phil becomes the most apoplectic. And then my fantasy cycling team will TOTALLY kick your fantasy cycling team’s ass.
*A bonus quote from Phil’s commentary partner Paul Sherwin, an ex-cyclist who now runs a Ugandan gold mine and who has been known to issue forth some bon mots of his own.