(SOURCE: Clarion Herald, 4.8.2020)
By Beth Donze
Photo courtesy of Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart
As the great-great granddaughter of Antoine Alciatore, the founder of Antoine’s Restaurant, and the great granddaughter of George Leidenheimer, who established the eponymous bakery, Religious of the Sacred Heart Sister Melanie Guste hails from some serious New Orleans culinary royalty.
Sister Guste, 67, wears the mantle humbly and with dedication and reverence, preparing a home-cooked dinner nearly every night for the sisters in her home community, even when being pulled into numerous directions in her role of headmistress of Academy of the Sacred Heart.
“From Dad, I learned the invaluable lessons of the techniques and methods of French cooking, more than any (one) recipe,” Sister Guste said of her late father, William “Billy” Guste Jr., who served as Louisiana’s attorney general for 24 years.
She recalled how her busy father relaxed on Saturdays by experimenting with various recipes in the kitchen. Sister Guste, the fourth-born of 10 children, said she and a few of her siblings would serve as their father’s “sous chefs.”
“These are such beautiful memories of my childhood – those of simply being with your father in the kitchen, but also of learning the French way of food preparation: the use of a knife and various cutting techniques; recognizing the color of sautéed onions; how to listen to the sound of oil,” she said. “And believe it or not, it really helps to know how to poach – either fish or an egg – and how to make a basic Bechamel sauce.”
Her bakery-bred mother Dorothy, now 96, taught Sister Guste how to make the fun stuff: the pralines, divinity fudge, sand tartes and cheese straws that became holiday meal staples.
“I still cannot make pralines like she did, and after trying so many pralines, I don’t think that any other ones rival her recipe,” Sister Guste said.
A lifetime parishioner of Holy Name of Jesus Church, Sister Guste’s interest in becoming an educator was sparked as an Academy of the Sacred Heart eighth grader, when Father Elmo Romagosa, editor of the of the Catholic Action (the predecessor of the Clarion Herald) and pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish drafted her to teach one of his Saturday catechetical groups.
“My passion for education began through that experience of working with those very young children,”said Sister Guste, a self-described “life-long learner” who went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in secondary education at Loyola, three master’s degrees and a doctorate in human and organizational systems.
“The first thing that I discovered in teaching these children was that I did not know what to teach them or how to teach the children. That was a valuable lesson that I have never forgotten,” she said. “Both content and process knowledge are critical to teaching and learning. A teacher must possess a deep knowledge of the subject matter as well as an understanding of methodology – the most effective ways of teaching it.”
The teenage Sister Guste reached out to one of her Religious of the Sacred Heart teachers, Sister Elia Torian, who agreed to coach her each week on the lesson for the upcoming Saturday.
“She opened me to the theological and spiritual meaning of the weekly lesson, and to the many ways of animating and differentiating the learning experience with all the children,” Sister Guste said, crediting the experience for igniting her passion for education and planting the seeds of her religious vocation.
Lover of Hearty Soups
On the culinary front, Sister Guste is known for her full-bodied soups such as cucumber and mint, creamed mushroom, artichoke and leek and split pea (Sister Guste graciously shared her recipes for the latter two with the Clarion Herald).
“I like to use local seasonal ingredients, which means that they are very fresh and delicious,” she said. “Other dishes that people seem to enjoy are my lamb dishes, accompanied with various sweet, fruit-based sauces or savory sauces. Some of my Bundt cakes seem to be crowd-pleasers, too, especially those with limoncello or rum.”
Sister Guste said her mother’s ties to the creators of Leidenheimer’s famous “Zip” bread probably inspired her to become a bread-maker as a young nun in her religious community.
“I moved on to Bundt cakes, muffins and cupcakes,” she said.
Some of her best life lessons were learned around the table. The Guste clan made a point of sitting down for family dinners most nights, saying grace before each meal and the rosary before dinner on Mondays.
Meatless Fridays featured “lots and lots of seafood” prepared fried, blackened, sautéed and boiled, she said.
“My father loved to make a great dish with oysters and cavatina. It was a simple combination of Italian-style pasta with a rich sauce of oysters and parmesan cheese,” Sister Guste said, noting that preparing a meal is a form of meditation for her.
“It focuses my attention and quiets me down in a way that leads me to hearing what is essential and important,” she said. “Because it comes easily to me, I can really relax in the kitchen – let go of any tension and breathe in a way that is truly refreshing. Through this kind of time in the kitchen, I feel grateful and thankful, humble and blessed by the great gift of God’s presence in life.”
Artichoke and Leek Soup
- 1 large bunch leeks
- 2-3 medium yellow or golden potatoes
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 2 cups drained artichoke hearts, packed in water in a jar or can
- 2-3 cups unsalted or low-sodium vegetable broth
- 3-4 tablespoons butter
- salt, to taste
- white pepper, to taste
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
Wash the vegetables very well. With the leeks, pull off the leaves that are overly dry. Cut off the tops and the very ends, leaving the light-green and the white portions of the leek. Chop into ¼-inches slices, enough to make 2 cups.
Peel the potatoes and cut into small squares, enough to make about 2 cups. Finely chop the garlic. Cut the artichoke hearts in small pieces, enough to make about 2 cups. Melt butter in a Dutch oven, heavy stainless-steel pot or any pot with a heavy bottom. Add the leeks and sauté on low heat until they are tender, translucent and soft. Don’t brown them.
Add the potatoes and vegetable broth. Cook until the potatoes are soft. Then, add the artichoke hearts and cook it all down together, stirring regularly. Season with salt and white pepper, to taste. Cover and let everything cook down for about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat. Let the soup stand for a few minutes to slightly cool. Using a hand-held immersion-type blender, purée the soup. After the consistency of the soup is integrated and smooth, add the milk and heavy cream.
The amounts of these depend on the preferences of your guests. This soup, which can be served hot or chilled, is a crowd-pleaser! You can garnish with sliced lemon, a few pieces of artichoke and a little parsley.
Variations: asparagus can be substituted for the artichoke hearts; other types of “milk” or no dairy at all can be used in lieu of milk and cream; add-ons, depending on your preferences, include: curry seasoning to taste; mushrooms (cooked on the side and added at the end); garnish of Parmesan cheese. Chicken broth can be used instead of vegetable broth on days you can have meat.
Split Pea Soup
- 1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped into small pieces
- 3-4 carrots, chopped into small pieces
- 2-3 stalks of celery, chopped into small pieces (optional)
- 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)
- 1 pound dried peas
- 5 cups vegetable broth or stock (enough to cover peas and extra, when in pot) season to taste (see options below)
Rinse peas in cold water using a colander. (I use Louisiana-grown peas). Pick out the peas that are brown, and don’t forget to pick out the small pieces of rock. In a sturdy, ceramic Dutch-oven pot or heavy-duty stainless-steel one (do not use aluminum), sauté onions on medium heat, in a small amount of good olive oil. Add celery, if desired.
Add garlic, if desired. Add split peas. Cover the peas (plus a little extra) with some vegetable broth or stock (beef stock can be used on days you can eat meat). Bring mixture to a boil and stir occasionally so that the peas do not stick to the bottom of the pot. After it comes to a boil, cover and reduce the heat.
Cook for about 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally, so that as the peas absorb the liquid they assimilate evenly, and do not stick to the bottom. Add the carrots, according to taste, during the last half-hour of cooking. If you add carrots in the beginning of the cooking process, they will get soggy.
Don’t go overboard with the carrots, as too many will change the soup. Toward the end of the cooking, the soup comes together and you can add the following: a generous pinch of minced thyme (fresh, if possible); 1-2 teaspoons of sesame oil (optional); and two pinches of dry yellow mustard (optional). Stir gently. You can also add red wine at this point, if you like it for depth of flavor. The French add wine to many recipes, but it is not necessary for this dish. Serve with French bread.
Notes and variations: If you are having a meatless meal, you can add 2 tablespoons of butter and a half-cup to a full cup of heavy cream before serving. This is a French touch that heightens the rich flavor of the soup. This soup does not need this addition, but to each his or her own.
This soup is delicious with or without meat. If you want to cook with meat, add a piece of good ham or salted pork to the pot of raw peas when you cover it with liquid at the beginning of the cook. Smoked sausage is another meat that complements this soup. If you add sausage, cut it into half-inch slices and cook the sausage on the side in a cast-iron pan until brown. Drain oil before adding. If your soup is vegetarian, then you can serve with a few nice slices of tomatoes on the top, or a little sour cream.
Sister Melanie Guste, R.S.C.J.
Headmistress, Academy of the Sacred Heart
Holy Name of Jesus Parish