Two Years Ago: Prosciutto, Gruyere and Egg Toasts
The Kentucky Derby (or as they call it in Louisville, simply "Derby" - not "the Derby", just "Derby") is coming up in a few weeks, so I thought I'd publish a local Louisville specialty in its honor. I lived in Louisville for several years and as a northerner was very pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the city is and how friendly the people are. I was also surprised by the thriving local food scene and how many local and regional specialties there are - bourbon balls, Derby pie, Hot Browns (an open-face turkey sandwich with bacon and cheese sauce, yum), and Benedictines are just a few.
When I first moved to Louisville I was out shopping and wandered into a cute little sandwich shop called The Cheddar Box Cafe for lunch. I noticed something on their menu board called "The Benedictine" which mentioned it as a local favorite so I decided to try it. Boy, was it good! I looked it up when I got home and no wonder it's good, can you say cream cheese. (Totally unrelated side note: I vowed I wouldn't go to Derby unless I could go in style and wear a big hat. Luckily, friends had box seats so I got to go, although I discovered that you get a major headache from wearing a big hat all day much less feeling mildly ridiculous. But it was great fun.)
Unless you're from Louisville you've probably never heard of a Benedictine, but it's really good and would be perfect for a Kentucky Derby party or any summer party because the cucumber filling is so refreshing. It got its name because it was invented in the 1890's by Jennie Benedict as a tea sandwich and it's been a local favorite ever since. There's a controversy in Louisville over whether to add green food coloring to the filling or not - some people like it with the naturally pale green tint, and some people tint it all the way to neon green. I opted to go the untinted route but you could certainly add some green if you want. Another controversy involves whether to add bacon strips or not - I left it out but I can see it would be a great addition. (You've probably figured out by now that Louisville people take their Benedictines very seriously.)
The filling is very easy to make but note that it's important to soften the cream cheese first, and the finished filling is refrigerated for an hour, so plan ahead. And if you serve Benedictines for a party, cut each sandwich into four little triangles just like Jenny Benedict would have.
Serves 4 generously
Note: the cream cheese needs to be softened and the cucumber spread is refrigerated for an hour before serving so plan ahead.
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 ½ tablespoons mayonnaise
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped red onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices wheat or whole grain bread
2 cups micro-greens or alfalfa sprouts
Grate the cucumber on the large holes of a box grater. Wrap the grated cucumber in a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible.
Combine the cream cheese and mayonnaise in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the cucumber and red onion and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
To assemble the sandwiches, divide the cream cheese mixture evenly between 4 slices of bread. Top with micro-greens and the other 4 slices of bread.