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feta rolls

Susan Loomis has lived in France for over twenty years, starting off in Paris, then moving with her family to an old house in Normandy that they refurbished, a story which she recounted in her best-selling book, On Rue Tatin. I’ve spent a lot of time with Susan at her home, cooking up a storm, then enjoying a wonderful meal afterwords, either outside on her lawn with the Gothic cathedral of Louviers towering over us, or in the winter, in her dining room, dining by the roaring fire.

Each meal begins with an apéritif, usually a nice glass of white wine or shot of pommeau, a barrel-aged mix of apple juice and Calvados, the local apple brandy. (Calvados usually makes an appearance after most dinners in Normandy as well.) But in all of France, l’heure d’apéro (apéritif hour) usually means that an assortment of snacks are brought out to accompany the drinks.

Susan teaches cooking classes in Normandy and in Paris, and continues to cook and write in her rustic, yet well-equipped country kitchen with friends and guests On Rue Tatin. Her appetizers are always the highlight of my visits to her, and I’m excited she is wiling to share a few of her favorites to her home. Please welcome this guest post by Susan Loomis. – David

There are certain magic moments in the French day. One is l’apéritif; the apéritif hour. It’s purpose? To allow guests to shake off the outer world, the worries, the cares of the day so that the evening with friends, around a delicious meal, will be enjoyed to the full.

I love l’apéritif. Before guests arrive, I clear one side of the work island in my kitchen and set it with glasses and small dishes I’ve prepared. When guests arrive, all is ready. This masks the fact that dinner never is. No one really notices this highly un-French behavior (French cooks are always ready when their guests arrive), because while I finish cooking, we’re all enjoying the apéritif together. My activity just becomes part of the evening’s entertainment!

I have one rule for the apéritif hour: We all drink the same thing. It might be my rum and lime punch in the summer. Otherwise, I offer wine – white, rosé, bubbly, or red. My reason is simple. I want, from the minute a guest walks in my door, for the moment to be shared fully. If everyone drinks something different, we’re not sharing. Each person is having their own experience within a group.

One of my favorite wines for apéritif is a dry white (Blanc Sec) from Peyres-Roses, in Gaillac near Toulouse. Made by my friends Astrid and Olivier Bonnafont, it’s the perfect sprightly, lively white to precede a meal. There are so many wines in France, though, that half the fun of serving an apéritif is getting to choose a wine for the moment.

Each little dishes I serve with for l’apéritif is calculated to sate, not annihilate, the appetite. One of my specialties is small cubes of feta cheese wrapped in Jambon de Bayonne, the Basque version of Italian prosciutto. A tiny, fresh sage leave is stuck in each one, then they’re macerated in extra-virgin olive oil and showered with black pepper (Voatsiperify is my favorite pepper.)

Another is more exotic. Called dukkah, it’s a Middle Eastern blend of toasted nuts and spices ground together. I serve it with crudités – seasonal, raw vegetables like fennel and radishes, endive or spring onions. To enjoy dukkah at its best, dip a crudité into olive oil, then dip it into the dukkah and crunch away.

During this season a perfect appetizer is juicy new garlic. I slice it paper-thin, arrange the slices on rounds of baguette that are slathered with lightly salted butter, then sprinkle it all with fleur de sel. Pure bliss.

I’ve noticed that the apéritif hour actually does last an hour. I believe this is because, inside of each French person is a dinner time-clock. In my experience, everyone wants to sit at table before the midnight bells ring, unless the occasion is a marriage. So, that hour up, the crowd gets restless for dinner, and I oblige. The mood is high, the conversation flowing, and everyone is ready to sit down together.

Vive l’apéritif! Vive la France!


Our neighbor, the charcutier Patrice Barbot, makes tasty little rolls like this, which tempt me each time I walk past his window. His are larger – each would make a serving – and they are ideal for a first course, atop a salad. I’ve made them small here, so that they are little bites to serve with a wonderful glass of…rosé, preferably from the Lubéron. You may use any air-cured ham, though you must be sure it is very thinly sliced.

For the Dukkah

  • 3/4 cup (100g) hazelnuts or almonds
  • 1/2 cup (70g) sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup (150g) pumpkin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seed
  • 3 tablespoons cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons scantfleur de sel, or fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

For the Feta Wrapped with Prosciutto

  • 4 ounces (120g) thinly sliced air-cured ham, (such as Prosciutto), cut in 1-inch (2.5cm) wide strips
  • 4 ounces (120g) feta cheese cut into 1x 1/4 x 1/4-inch pieces, (2.5 x .75 x .75 cm)
  • About 20 fresh sage leaves, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the Dukkah

  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
  • Toast the hazelnuts or almonds in the oven until they begin to turn golden and smell toasty, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and, is using hazelnuts, transfer them to a paper bag or a tea towel which you must close around the nuts so they steam slightly and their skins blister away from the nuts. Note that hazelnuts tend to roast unevenly, and you may need to return some of them to the oven to continue roasting. When the hazelnuts are cool, rub them in the towel or bag to remove as much of the papery skin as possible. For almonds, they toast more evenly and do not need skinning.
  • Place the sesame seeds in a heavy skillet and toast them over medium heat, shaking the pan constantly, until they turn golden and smell toasty, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan, and repeat the process with the pumpkin seeds
  • Place the coriander seeds in a small, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat and toast just until they begin to smell fragrant, about 45 seconds. Remove from the heat. Repeat with the cumin seeds. Repeat with the fennel seeds.
  • Place the hazelnuts, sesame seeds, and the salt in the work bowl of the food processor and pulse until the nuts are coarsely chopped. Add the seeds, the pepper, and the paprika and process until the mixture is finely ground. Be careful not to over process so the nuts don’t become oily. Transfer to a serving bowl.

For the Feta Wrapped with Prosciutto

  • Lay out several strips of the ham, and place cubes of feta at one end. Lay half a sage leaf across each piece of feta so the tip of the leaf sticks out beyond the edge of the strip of ham, then roll the ham around the feta and sage. Place the roll upended in a shallow bowl so that the cheese shows, and crowd the rolls together to keep them from unrolling.
  • Continue until all of the feta and the sage are rolled inside ham strips. Pour the olive oil over the feta rolls and marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. Just before serving, sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
  • Serve, using toothpicks to skewer the rolls.


Note: Turkish feta-style cheese, which has a fifty percent fat content, is unbelievably rich tasting and creamy, and perfect here. Greek feta, which is saltier and more crumbly, makes a worthy substitute.

Thanks to Susan Loomis for sharing her wonderful French appetizer ideas. Visit Susan at her website – On Rue Tatin, where you can find news about her books and French cooking classes. And find her on Facebook as well. (Text, recipes, and images courtesy of Susan Loomis.)

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    • malu

    I don’t think a good prosciutto is to be wrapped with anything. It is to be eaten by itself or with piadina.
    Good sails!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Malu: You can use any kind of thin-sliced ham for the rolls. Depending on where you live, various types of ham are available and most are fine to use for this appetizer.

      Elizabeth: Yes, her recipes are great. Always a success!

    • Elizabeth Minchilli

    Some of my favorite and most used recipes come from Susan. So happy to see her visiting on your blog.

    • angela

    The apero hour is indeed the most popular hour down here in Provence, though we usually drink, rosé or pastis and the nibbles are generally olive related, tapinade, etc. or my favourite anchoide. I love how different food is eaten depending on what region you live in and how France has still not been homoginised.

    • Laura

    How lovely, I’m reading that book again for the hundreth time right now!

    • Susan H Loomis

    Hi David,

    Thanks for posting this!!! I wish you were here right now – it’s a sliced garlic and butter and bread day; we’ll have some aspargus tips, too, from Baptiste, with fresh lemon mayo. Can you run on over? Oh yes, some Pommeau too, from Domaine des Hauts Vents.


    • Jean | Delightful Repast

    David, that is pure genius: “I have one rule for the apéritif hour … If everyone drinks something different, we’re not sharing. Each person is having their own experience within a group.” That paragraph just jumped out at me and is going to impact my entertaining more than any other single idea I’ve seen this year!

    • Kimberly

    I think they look delicious! I love the setiment of all sharing the same thing to drink so we are all having the same experience. I guess I have some French in me I too love to have everything done and ready to enjoy the evening with friends.

    • Oui, Chef

    Just what I need, another food addiction. Thanks, David!

    • Kristin

    The dukkah looks lovely! I’ve never tried it, but I certainly will be! And your description of dining at Susan Loomis’ place has me a teensy bit jealous ;)

    • Alicia (Foodycat)

    The slightly sweet olive biscuits from On Rue Tatin are one of my favourite appetisers. Such a lovely little snack!

    • Lisa @ Tarte du Jour

    What a delightful post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading “On Rue Tatin” and it made me happy to know you are friends with Susan. I like your take on sharing the same experience down to the drink. Vive la France, indeed!

    • Pam

    Two great ideas that I will surely steal – everyone drinking the same thing, and the green garlic appetizer! Thanks! BTW, I loved her book, On Rue Tatin, too.

    • Susan

    The Dukkah sounds like a wonderful combination of flavors. Thanks for sharing it.

    • green beans & grapefruit

    These look delectable!

    • Kalyn

    Yes please!

    • semiswede

    The dukkah sounds fantastic. We are having friends for dinner next weekend and I really want to do something middle eastern inspired so this is perfect timing.

    • Nadia

    No party can start without an aperitif! :) What could better soften a soul and ignite a conversation?..
    I like the concept of “dry dip” in dukkah and will certainly include it in my list of “things to try”.
    It’s interesting that my favorite open sandwich is the one with garlic! I smear unsalted butter on a thin slice of bread (it could be white or any grey or even dark rye), sliver garlic perpendicularly so the adorable greenish dot is visible, spread slices over butter, and sprinkle with some interesting coarse salt, like Hymalaian pink or Alaea red Hawaian, just before eating. Of course, young garlic is the best for this, but we never get bored to eat this every week as an appetizer before dinner. Love it.
    Tomorrow I will be planting garlic in my small garden and patiently waiting for new crops. :)
    Thank you for this beautiful post!

    • naomi

    I’m saving that Dukkah recipe; it sounds good. Being a pescatarian, I figure substitute smoked salmon for ham?

    • Maureen @ Orgasmic Chef

    In Australia dukkah is available at every country market. Rustic bread dipped in oil and a small ball of really nice balsamic vinegar and then dipped in dukkah is a favorite.

    The apéritif hour is what I need to do. I’m never ready when the guests are.

    So lovely to meet Susan! I’m off to peruse her website now.

    • Kaili@lime-or-lemon

    Agree on the point of everyone sharing the same drink rather than an open bar catering for individual tastes and am glad to see rose wine get a bit of appreciation, the appreciation it actually deserves and not the neglection it is often faced with.

    • kale @ tastes good to me!

    One of the things I look forward to most about visiting my in-laws is l’apéritif. (Is that bad..?) I just love the custom because you have a chance to unwind with the guests and just chill before the several-course meal ensues. A several-course meal which I also look forward to…

    And Calvados. Ah, Calvados. A treasured memory of my time in Normandy. An excellent finish to a fantastic meal!

    • LorI @ In My Kitchen, In My Life

    How nice to “hear” from Susan, one of my favorite food writers.

    Am I wrong in thinking that leftover dukkah would make a great fish or poultry coating?

    • Lori Lynn

    What a lovely post. Love the idea of everyone enjoying the same drink.
    Looking forward to making dukkah for my next gathering!

    • Dana

    Ha! I had to laugh in delight as you mention Dukkah…or Duqqa as I spell it. I’ve been making and selling Duqqa here on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and even after all these years, people still come up to me at the farmers’ market and say, ” what is it? What do you DO with it?” I even had someone ask me what a “Crud- ite” would have snorted. Nice to know you’re using Duqqa as well. I love it and have loads of recipes ideas. It’s amazing on le popcorn!
    Thanks so much for your posts. I have your Sweet Life in Paris book and so many of the stories remind me of when I lived in Cherbourg with a host family. ( I made your salted caramels, you bad bad man!)

    Best wishes from here in the Cowichan Valley!

    • Cathg1g2

    I love everything Susan wrote about and I must add I would be a good guest!

    • Sweet Freak

    Dukkah was totally unknown to me until I had it in New Zealand a few years back. Just simply eaten with bread and olive oil, it put me over the moon. I’m on a prosciutto eater, but these canapés look divine!

    • Anna

    i lived in france as a teenager, and i could not stand the incredibly long meals. i couldn’t believe it took an hour to drink an aperitif, and another hour for every course after that! the meals went into the night, and i sat there, exhausted, culture shocked, and always still hungry, wondering what was going on.

    i so wish now i could do it all over again. the beauty of taking time to eat, of making it a social occasion rather than just a fuel stop. savoring food over the course of an hour, and never feeling overfull. it seems like such a beautiful way to eat now.

    • Gavrielle

    Dukkah has been ubiquitous in New Zealand for the last five years or so, probably because we have a flourishing boutique olive oil industry and they go so well together. Susan’s looks delish. I also love her idea that every drinks the same apero – perfect!

    • The Chic Teach

    Ha! I’m imagining the look on my rather simple coworkers faces when I serve dukkah at our next happy hour :-) The feta wrapped prosciutto, on the other hand, would disappear with warp speed! Delicious!

    • Sofia

    Hi! Just to clarify, “feta” is Greek, and has been granted the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) of the European union since 2002 – all others (including the Turkish version) are substitutes!

    Very nice recipe by the way!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, I’ve written about that before. I thought that was pretty clear when I said feta “style” cheese. I wrote about that a while back in a post with a recipe for Marinated Feta.

    • Marianne

    Bernard Devoto wrote famously about the “the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow again and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen magically along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn” — the moment when he came home to his drink of the evening. I suspect this Pulitzer Prize wining author would very much approve of Susan Loomis.

    • Liza in Ann Arbor

    Love it! Even here in the US, I try to mind the l’aperitif rule when entertaining. Nobody ever complains ;) On Rue Tatin was one of the first “Frenchie books with recipes” that I read. My favorite recipe from it is the goat cheese stuffed apples. I make those again and again. They are divine.

    • Lani

    Love “On Rue Tatin” as well. Would it be possible to get a recipe for the Rum Punch?

    • Rod

    The Dukkah sounds great. I can imagine rolling mild cheese with it as well. However, the procuitto and feta sounds a bit salty to me. I suppose it would be good to serve at a bar, make people thirsty and buy more drinks!

    • Jenn and Seth

    I really love recipes for appetizers like this, I cannot wait to try! I also love the idea of having guests all drink the same drink. I think all too often we are taught to give guests choices – many, many choices. But you are right – we aren’t truly sharing when we do that!


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