Dale Levitski fills his croque-madame with the usual ham and cheese, but he also tosses in shallots and thinly sliced Granny Smith apples for some tart, crisp action. What makes this sandwich really special, however, is what Levitski does with the cheese: He covers the bread and the entire surface of the pan with grated cheddar and bakes it until the cheese surrounding the bread becomes golden and crisp, creating a round, halo-like crust. It's like having a sandwich and cheese crackers all in one.
Quick tip: If the cheese isn't crisp after a minute or two out of the oven, just pop it back in for a couple minutes.
To learn more, read "Croque Star."
Recipe from Dale Levitski, Sinema, Nashville, TN
Yield: 1 sandwich
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 slice Pullman white bread
1½ cups packed coarsely grated aged cheddar cheese
1 small shallot, very thinly sliced
4 to 5 thin slices Granny Smith apples
3 thin slices Black Forest ham
1 egg, cooked sunny-side up
1. Heat the oven to 350°. In a 9-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Fry the bread in the melted butter, making sure the butter does not brown, until light golden brown on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Arrange all the cheese on and around the bread evenly so that it covers the surface of the pan. Cook on medium-low heat until the cheese around the bread begins to melt, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Place the skillet in the oven until the cheese on top of the bread is fully melted and the cheese around the bread is golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven, pour out the rendered fat and let the bread cool in the pan for a minute.
4. Using a rubber spatula, gently loosen the edges and carefully lift the sandwich and transfer it to a cutting board.
5. Place the skillet back onto the stovetop over medium heat, add the shallots and cook until the shallots begin to soften, 40 seconds to 1 minute. Add the apples and ham, and lightly toss until the ham is heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Place the shallot-ham mixture on top of the sandwich. Cut the bread in half diagonally and fold over to form a half sandwich. Cut once more to make two triangles. Transfer the sandwich to a plate. Top it with the egg and serve with grain mustard.
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