Hello, and welcome to Will It Casserole?, the column where I take your delicious concepts and re-imagine them as delicious casserole creations. Today we're taking one of my favourite sandwiches and transforming into a cheesy, ham-studded, layered piece of edible art.
Photos by Claire Lower.
Named after a vengeful fake count - I think; I haven't read the book - the Monte Cristo is more of an experience than a mere sandwich. In it's simplest form, it's a ham and cheese sandwich which is dipped in egg batter and then fried. Sometimes there is turkey involved, but I don't know why you would put turkey in a spot that more ham could fill. The crispy, melty, pork-filled delight is usually served jam or syrup and sprinkled with powdered sugar, but you should probably use all three, just in case.
Turning the Monte Cristo into a casserole was an easy, delicious task. It's basically a savoury bread pudding with a pound of Swiss cheese. Bread-wise, you could go two different routes: A crusty, Italian-style bread with an overnight custard soak, or a nice soft challah loaf, which absorbs the custard rapidly so you don't have to wait. I chose the latter.
If you're following along at home, you will need:
- 1 loaf of challah bread
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup of whole milk
- 450g shredded Swiss cheese
- 225g thick ham, cut into 1cm pieces
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Butter for greasing
- Icing sugar for dusting
- Jam and/or syrup (choose both, my friend)
Preheat your oven to 176C and grease a large casserole dish with butter. Tear challah into 2.5cm pieces, and set aside in a large bowl. Whisk milk and eggs together to form a custard, and pour it over the bread. Place the ham pieces in a large freezer bag with the mustard, and toss to coat. Add ham and three quarters of your cheese supply to the bowl with the custard-coated bread, and stir it all together. Pour it into the casserole dish, and pop it in the oven for half an hour. Once you start to see a good bit of browning on the cheese and bread, dump the remaining cheese on top and stick it back in the oven until the new cheese layer is melted and browned.
I call this "buffer cheese".
Take it out, top it with powdered sugar, and serve hot.
As you're eating, reflect on how this casserole could be eaten for literally any meal, no matter what the hour. Notice how it basically tastes like a doughnut with crispy, golden edges, except ham and cheese are there too, and realise that a ham and cheese doughnut is what's been missing from your life all of these years. Eat it, share it, make it again.