Muster enough energy to grate a zucchini from the garden and scoop out some melon balls and you’ll be blessed with a gorgeous and refreshing salad perfect for these steamy dog days of summer. Straight from the French countryside of Normandy, Susan Hermmann Loomis shares an array of mouthwatering dishes along with evocative stories, everyday tips, secrets, and eighty-five other recipes in her book, In A French Kitchen.
One by one, you’ll meet the busy people, Susan’s friends and neighbors, from her adopted home of Louviers, France and the surrounding villages and towns of Normandy. French cooks make it look so simple, but how do they do it? Discover how French cooks turn even the simplest ingredients into a scrumptious meal without using fancy pots and pans or spending hours in the kitchen, and still look put together in the process.
Susan Herrmann Loomis goes straight to the source and insists that it is the French love of food, not a love of cooking itself, that propels them to produce meals daily. But it has to be good food that delights the senses – not just food for sustenance. They take care in choosing ingredients, planning and producing variety, making time, and insisting that family and friends sit at the table and enjoy meals.
I met Loomis at a luncheon book-signing party at Melissa’s Produce the day before leaving on a trip to Osaka, Japan. Now, I had a delicious way to fill at least a few of the 15 hours in transit to see College Girl! Of the array of dishes we tasted, the Melon Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette stood out for me. A trio of brightly colored melons in a simple, refreshing salad nestled on a bed of cool grated zucchini caught my eye and my heart. It is also a beautiful solution for gardeners who are faced with an abundance of the prolific green vegetable at this time of year.
In her demonstration, Loomis emphasized that the French are not afraid of fat and insist on excellent quality butter and bread, which may be the key to why obesity is not an issue in France – fresh, flavorful ingredients satisfy the senses and your hunger – one does not have to over eat to be satiated. In this simple recipe, she also emphasized the importance of using a highly flavorful salt and pepper such as Fleur de sel and Szechuan peppers where a little bit goes a long way.
- 2 ripe melons, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch squares or scooped with a melon baller
- For the Vinaigrette:
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3 shallots, diced
- Fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground Szechuan pepper or other flavorful pepper
- ⅓ cup (85 ml) plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup (3 ) fresh mint leaves
- For the zucchini:
- 1-1/4 pound (60 g) zucchini, grated on the small holes of a box grater
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Fleur de sel and fresh mint leaves for garnish
- Place the melon balls in a medium-size bowl and refrigerate.
- To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, shallots, salt to taste, pepper, and the oil.
- Just before serving the salad, cut the int leaves into very thin strips and whisk them into the vinaigrette. Pour ¾ of the vinaigrette over the melon balls and toss gently.
- To make the zucchini, in a large bowl, toss together the grated zucchini and the lemon zest with a fort so it is well mixed. Add he remaining vinaigrette and toss thoroughly.
- To serve, divide the zucchini among six plates, making a circle of the zucchini in the center of the plate. Evenly divide the melon salad among the plates, placing it in the center of the zucchini circle. Garnish with fleur de sel and mint leaves, and serve.
Melissa’s chefs prepared a French feast from among the book’s enticing recipes including: savory Mushrooms with Chorizo, the summery Melon Salad, hearty Sausages with Tomatoes & Golden Rice (Rougail Creole), Braised Broccoli, Garden Salad with Classic Vinaigrette, and delectable Sweet Pie Pastry with Berries & Cream for dessert.
We were inspired by how a lovely French radish with greens intact becomes a glorious hor d’oeuvre by simply spreading a baguette slice with sweet butter, top with a radish, a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel and voilà! In A French Kitchen is a delightful read and is exactly how I want to cook – “without a lot of fuss but with great results” as David Lebovitz phrases it in his praise for the book. Like me, you’ll enjoy a colorful sojourn with an open invitation to Susan’s and her friends’ tables and, when you return to your kitchen, let the book be your guide to producing honest, simple, and chic meals à la francaise.