You may have read or heard about Susan. She’s everywhere! She’s a French-based, award-winning author of nine books, including On Rue Tatin and the French Farmhouse Cookbook. An American by birth, she went to France right out of college to attend La Varenne, one of the oldest French cooking schools, and found her way into the heart of French cooking, French people, and a life in Normandy. She lives with her two children in a restored convent in Louviers, where she runs her On Rue Tatin Cooking School. She dazzles us with her talents, her energy, her superb parenting skills, and her commitment to using ﬁne, fresh ingredients, always.
She became a friend of Oldways in the 1980’s, and was a participating journalist at our at our Crossroads of Europe and Asia symposium in Turkey in 1993, our First Barcelona Congress on the Mediterranean Diet in Barcelona in 1996, our Food Choices 2000 symposium in Hawaii, Healthy Pasta Meal in Rome in 2004, and our Mediterranean Diet symposium in Puglia in 2006. This past spring, she was the culinary leader for our Oldways Normandy Culinaria.
As it always true of an intersection with Susan, she had a lot of wonderful information to share. On Tuesday night at the French Cultural Center in Boston, it was all about nuts. Right oﬀ the bat, Susan declared that nuts are an incredibly healthy food, even though consumers often fear the fats in them. We loved hearing her say this! Oldways has always promoted the health beneﬁts of the “good” fats in nuts, peanuts, olive oil, avocados, and fatty ﬁsh as an important part of the Mediterranean Diet, and we introduced the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid to help Americans to change their focus from low fat to good fat.
Susan recommended thinking outside the nut dish to include nuts in everything from soup to dessert. For example, you can use nuts or peanut butter to thicken soups and stews. Include them in breakfast, too, by mixing them with fruit and dairy.
Buy the freshest nuts you can ﬁnd, and store nuts in the freezer. (The nuts Susan used in her cooking demo came from Fastachi in Watertown, where they’re roasted in small batches on the premises.)
Susan also said that when people ask her how French people stay so thin, she replies that they traditionally don’t eat a lot between meals. She personally needs to eat small amounts between meals and a handful of nuts makes the perfect snack – they keep her full for 3 hours. Portion control is important: a handful of nuts is truly what will ﬁt in your cupped palm: That’s about 6 Brazil nuts, 8 whole walnuts, no seconds.For her demo, Susan made Brazil Nut Pesto using a mortar and pestle, which she prefers because she likes pesto to have texture. She combined the Brazil nuts, fresh parsley with every bit of stem removed from every leaf (many thanks to the volunteers who plucked), fresh basil, chopped garlic, grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, lemon zest, extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. She also prepared her Nut Oil Vinaigrette, using shallots sliced paper thin, sherry vinegar, and a hazelnut oil from the French purveyor, Leblanc, one of Susan’s favorites. She reminded us that good oil makers know just the right moment when toasted nuts are ready to be pressed. While she prefers to use nut oils in dressings, she has a friend who uses them on green beans and for frying eggs. She explained that using nut oils delivers a completely diﬀerent taste, ﬂavor, and aroma from that of olive oil. To make her point, she passed around a sample of the hazelnut oil. Everyone in the audience swooned at the glorious aroma. Susan concluded her talk by discussing three famous French cheeses: Pont l’Eveque, a cow’s milk cheese of Normandy; St. Maure, a wonderful goat cheese from the Loire Valley; and Comte from the Alps, which is often everyone’s favorite. Samples of each cheese were served at the end of her talk, along with her pesto on baguette toasts, and a salad dressed with her nut oil vinaigrette.
- 1 ½ tablespoons best-quality sherry vinegar or fresh lemon juice
- 1 shallot, sliced paper thin
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup nut oil (walnut, hazelnut, peanut, pumpkin seed, almond, macadamia, or sesame)
- 10 cups mixed salad greens and fresh herbs, such as curly endive, escarole, dandelion greens, arugula, radicchio, thyme, small sage leaves, or lemon verbena
- ½ cup walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, or macadamia nuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
- 4 ounces soft goat cheese, Roquefort, or feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
- 5 to 6 freshly picked blossoms, including nasturtiums, pansies, thyme ﬂowers, rose petals, geranium petals
- In a large salad bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallot, and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly add the oil, whisking constantly, until the mixture has emulsiﬁed. Add the greens and toss until they are thoroughly coated with the vinaigrette. If you are serving the salad before the meal, scatter it with the toasted nuts or seeds and the cheese. If this is a postmeal salad, serve it just with the ﬂowers.