Growing up I was never really a big ham fan. It was turkey or peanut butter (hold the jelly), or nothing. And then I entered into a six year vegetarian phase, considered to be a dark period by both our families, and so I really didn’t have much experience with ham before moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina for my third year of college.
Argentines are big fans of ham. You can get just about anything ‘completo’, which means topped with ham, cheese and egg. You can get a sandwich completo. An empanada completo. A pizza completo. Pizza! Topped with ham, cheese and egg! I was forced to confront my ham prejudices head on. Ham was inescapable.
And so I embraced it. My favorite way to eat ham and cheese was as a tostada. There was a little cafe in my neighborhood where you could get a cafe con leche with ham and cheese toasty. Made on thin white bread (pan de miga) with ham (jamon cocido) and mild, melty cheese (port salut), it was toasted on this terrifying wire contraption, which I tried to use at home and which always, always resulted in burnt toast. Alongside your coffee and sandwich, they’d give you two of the tiniest creme puffs. Marble sized balls of pastry filled with a tiny squeeze of vanilla pastry creme, dusted with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. If that is not a totally adorable touch, I don’t know what is.
For some reason, one particular tostada stands out in my memory. It was a rainy day, it can really pour in Buenos Aires, and so we took shelter inside a cafe to fortify ourselves with tostadas. That tostada, it was a sandwich that felt like a hug. Or maybe a towel that’s warm and fresh from the dryer. A sandwich so perfectly suited to the moment it was eaten that I still haven’t forgotten it eight years later. This specific memory popped into my head last weekend, and I had to try to recreate that sandwich.
We got close. Not perfect, but close.
For this sandwich, contrary to grilled cheese wisdom, it’s important not to butter the bread. I’ll pause there to let you take it that in. It’s a pretty dry sandwich. The cheese should melt, but not so much that it bubbles or browns. You also want a ham that is pretty mild. I’d stay away from anything honey-baked or too smokey. Honey-baked is not the Argentine way.
Ham and Cheese Tostada
2 slices of pain de mie bread, crusts cut off (do it, it makes a difference, ask any 4 year old)
a few slices of ham (we used a french ham from our favorite cheese spot in the neighborhood)
a few slices of mild, melty cheese (we used a french port salut, raclette would also be nice)
Cut the crusts off the bread. Put the bread on a baking sheet. Top one slice with ham, one slice with cheese. Put into your oven at 350° F and warm until the cheese melts. Once the cheese has melted, put the slices together and toast each side under your boiler, just a minute or two per side.