One time many years ago, I was riffling through my grandmother Ruth's box of handwritten recipe cards when I pulled up short at the sight of the title of this recipe for Cheese Sandwich Souffle. Souffle? Fancy! But reading the details, I quickly understood that this item was nothing more or less than the wedding of a ham-and-cheese sandwich and some French toast.
But that didn't make it a souffle. It required no separating of eggs, nor any beating of egg whites. Once I actually made the recipe, however, the title didn't seem like such a stretch. Fresh out of the oven, these sandwiches have puffed up in a very souffle-ish way. Similarly, they boast the moistness and airiness of a souffle.
But what I especially loved about the recipe was how ridiculously easy it is to prepare, making it the ideal candidate for a weeknight meal. (Huh? A sandwich for supper? Yes. Eggs for supper? Indeed.) Preparing this dish is so simple, you ought to consider inviting your kids to help. But whether or not the kids lend a hand, this sandwich will be even more attractive once the schoolyear — and the hectic dinnertime grind — kicks in. Just know that you'll have to plan ahead a bit; the sandwiches need to soak in the egg/milk mixture for a full hour before you pop them into the oven.
This recipe can be customized in all sorts of ways. You can swap out the ham for smoked turkey, prosciutto or your meat of choice. You can lose the Gruyere in favor of provolone, cheddar, mozzarella, or your favorite cheese. Vegetarians in the family? Say goodbye to the meat and hello to a hearty vegetable like grilled eggplant or sauteed Portobello mushrooms. Want to make a slimmer version? Use low-fat cheese and non-fat milk. However you roll, all you'll need to flesh out the meal is a side salad or vegetable. These sandwiches are plenty hearty.
CHEESE SANDWICH SOUFFLE
Start to finish: 2 hours (15 minutes active)
Butter for buttering the baking pan
8 slices homemade-style white or whole-wheat bread, crusts removed
1/4 pound thinly sliced cheese (Gruyere, cheddar, provolone, mozzarella, et cetera)
2 ounces thinly sliced boiled ham, prosciutto or smoked turkey
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 cups whole milk
In a lightly buttered 8-inch-square baking dish, arrange 4 slices of the bread flat on the bottom, trimming the slices if necessary to fit snuggly in one layer. Cover each slice with one-fourth of the cheese and one-fourth of the meat and top each one with another slice of bread to form a sandwich.
In a bowl beat the eggs lightly with the salt, add the milk and beat until combined well. Pour the mixture over the sandwiches, cover and chill 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the sandwiches on the middle shelf of the oven uncovered until they are browned around the edges and just set in the center, about 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer a baked sandwich to each of 4 plates and serve right away.
Nutritional information: 454 calories; 205 calories from fat; 23 g fat (11 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 223 mg cholesterol; 1,113 mg sodium; 36 g carbohydrates; 2 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 26 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton is host of public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals." She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including "Cooking Live." Her latest cookbook is "HomeCooking 101."