When I was in university, I fell in love with the Gershwins.
It was actually an Ella Fitzgerald recording of George and Ira Gershwin’s songs that I fell in love with. I never knew whether it was George’s perfect music, Ira’s clever lyrics, or Ella’s elegant voice that drew me in. Whichever it was, I listened to this record as much as anything in those days, including the Beatles and The Police, and that’s quite a lot.
Later, when Andrew and I chose a first song to dance to for our wedding, there was really only one option. It had to be a Gershwin composition, and we went with “(Our) Love is Here to Stay”. The version we chose was sung by Nat King Cole, and it was a perfect way to start our marriage.
When our first daughter was born, I remember being alone in the hospital room that first night with a crying baby. I settled her by singing “Embraceable You” and “Someone To Watch Over Me”.
So you can probably guess that I think the Gershwin brothers’ movie An American in Paris is absolutely delightful.
In addition to the music, the other element that makes this movie so watchable is Gene Kelly. Kelly was a notorious perfectionist, and he makes every step look effortless. I’ve never seen a musical number that’s more charming than when he teaches a group of French children how to speak English in “I Got Rhythm”. And with co-stars Oscar Levant in “Tra-La-La” and Georges Guétary in “S’Wonderful”, he took a film with a very simple plot and turned it into one that won an Oscar for best movie in 1951.
In short, An American in Paris – with superb music, unbeatable lyrics, and dancing that will take your breath away – is everything a musical should be.
There are a million wonderful recipes that An American in Paris might inspire, but I immediately thought of the food I ate as a young Canadian in Paris on an exchange trip. On the second day of my trip, I ordered a sandwich in a tiny café. Back home it would have been called a grilled cheese with ham, and it would have made a nice lunch. But there it was called a Croque Monsieur, and in that tiny café it felt like the most delicious meal I’d ever eaten.
(If you’re new to the blog, welcome to my semiannual feature of recipes inspired by musicals! Previous months can be found here, here and here.)
(from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris. This recipe makes a large amount of cheese sauce and enough sandwiches for a big group. You may wish to halve it.)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 tsp kosher salt
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (about 5 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
8 ounces baked ham, sliced thin
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for two minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat, add the salt, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere and the Parmesan. Set aside.
To toast the bread, place the slices on two baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.
Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.