Luxury Low-Fat Recipes

By Moira Hodgson
Photograph: iStock

Years ago, I spent hours over the stove cooking luxurious, calorie-laden meals for my dinner parties: a creamy veal blanquette with pearl onions and mushrooms; coq au vin in a rich, dark red sauce laced with chunks of bacon; warm chocolate soufflé topped with whipped cream. I miss the days when my friends and I cooked without a thought for our waistlines or our cholesterol. So I decided to revisit some of those classic dishes [read the full story here] and see whether I could lighten them up without compromising their taste and integrity. I wasn’t going to use horrible substitutions (no instant potatoes, frozen soy protein crumbles and fat-free Cheddar cheese). I simply wanted to create versions that would be easier on the conscience (and the heart) and more in tune with the way we eat today  Here are my recipes for:

Coq au Vin (this page)
Blanquette de Veau
(page 2)
Sole à la Normande
(page 3)
Roast Duck with Apricot Sauce
(page 4)
Spaghetti Carbonara
(page 5)
Roast Boneless Leg of Lamb
(page 6)
with Mustard-Herb Crust
(page 7)
Pears with Blackberry Sauce and Toasted Pistachios
(page 8)
Egg-White Chocolate Soufflé
(page 9)

This dish can be made a day ahead.
Serves 4
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 1½ hours

    3     ounces lean pancetta or
        unsmoked bacon in one piece
    2     tablespoons olive oil
    1     3- to 4-pound chicken, cut
        into 6 or 8 pieces
        Sea salt and freshly ground
        pepper, to taste
    3     celery ribs, chopped
    1     medium onion, chopped
    1     large carrot, chopped
    2     garlic cloves, minced
    1     tablespoon flour
    2     tablespoons cognac
    4     or 5 fresh thyme sprigs
    2     bay leaves
    2     cups dry, full-bodied red wine
    2     cups hot chicken broth,
        preferably homemade (or
        canned low-sodium)
    1     10-ounce bag fresh pearl onions,
        blanched and peeled* (or
        10-ounce package frozen)
    18     small white button or cremini
    2     tablespoons chopped flat-leaf
1. Remove the rind from the pancetta. Cut the pancetta into rectangles ¼ inch across and 1 inch long; trim fat.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven. Sauté the pancetta, turning frequently, until golden. (Don’t allow it to burn.) Remove with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.
3. Dry the chicken with paper towels. Add them in one layer to the casserole (you may need to work in two batches); brown on all sides over moderate heat. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a bowl; season with pepper and just a little salt. (The pancetta is salty.) Drain the fat from the casserole.
4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the Dutch oven. Add celery, onion, carrot and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently over medium
heat, 7 to 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Stir in the flour, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Pour in the cognac and scrape up the brown bits. Return the pancetta to the pot with the chicken, thyme and bay leaves.
5. Add the wine, bring to a simmer, and pour in just enough broth to cover the chicken. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the onions and mushrooms; simmer for 15 minutes. Check the chicken; it should be tender but not falling off the bone. Simmer a few minutes longer if needed.
6. Place the chicken and vegetables on a warm, deep serving platter. Cover with foil to keep warm. Remove bay leaves and thyme. Simmer the sauce for a few minutes until it thickens. Pour it over the chicken. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve.
* If you’re using fresh pearl onions, cook them in boiling water for 2 minutes. Rinse with cool water, trim the root end,
and slip off the skins.

Serves 6
Prep time: 10 minutes the day before, 45 minutes on the day of cooking
Cooking time: 1½ hours

    1     cup fat-free ricotta cheese (with a
        sell-by date at least a month away)
    ¼     cup fat-free plain Greek-style
    3     pounds stewing veal, cut in
        2-inch cubes
    1     large carrot, peeled, in 3-inch
    3     leeks, cut into 2-inch pieces and
         thoroughly washed to remove grit
    1     celery stalk, chopped
    2     bay leaves
    4     thyme sprigs
    ¼     teaspoon sea salt
    ¼     teaspoon freshly ground white
    8     cups low-salt hot chicken broth
    18     medium-size white mushrooms,
        stems trimmed
    1     10-ounce bag pearl onions,
        blanched and peeled (or a
        10-ounce package frozen)
    1     lemon
    1     tablespoon butter
    1     tablespoon flour
        Fresh tarragon or chives, for garnish
1. The day before cooking, blend ricotta and yogurt until smooth and the consistency of heavy cream. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.
2. On the day of cooking, place the veal in a heavy cast-iron Dutch oven. Add water just to cover the veal, and bring to a boil. Skim as much froth as possible from the top. Drain the veal pieces, and rinse.
3. Return the veal to the Dutch oven. Add the carrot, leeks, celery, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper. Add the hot broth and simmer for 1 hour, partially covered, on very low heat. Skim from time to time.
4. Add mushrooms and onions, and simmer 30 minutes more.
5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat and vegetables to a large bowl, draining them well and reserving the liquid. Strain the cooking liquid into a separate bowl. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.
6. Cook the butter and flour together in a heavy, medium-size saucepan, stirring constantly over medium heat, until golden. Add the strained veal cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, and reduce the mixture by half. Remove from heat, and add the ricotta mixture, stirring until thick. Check the seasoning, adding more lemon juice if necessary, and pour the sauce over the veal. Garnish with tarragon or chives, and serve.

Serves 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes    
    1     pound mussels
    1     shallot, minced
    1     cup dry white wine
    2     sole fillets, about 1¼ pounds,
        each cut into 2 equal pieces
        Sea salt and freshly ground
        pepper, to taste
    ½     cup heavy cream
    1     tablespoon butter
    1     tablespoon chopped flat-leaf
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Rinse and debeard mussels by pulling off the stringy attachment on the sides of the shells. Discard any mussels that don’t close when you tap them lightly.
2. Put the shallot and wine in a pot large enough to hold the mussels, and bring to a simmer. Add the mussels, cover, and cook for 5 minutes (or until the shells open). With a slotted spoon, remove the mussels to a bowl, cover and keep them warm on the back of the stove.
3. Fold the sole fillets in half crosswise, and put them into a baking dish large enough to hold them in one layer. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Bring the mussels’ cooking liquid to a boil, and pour ¹⁄³ cup over the fillets. Cover them loosely with foil or parchment, and bake for 4 to 6 minutes, just until they are opaque.
5. Meanwhile, shell the mussels. Pour the cooking liquid into a saucepan, and reduce to ½ cup. Add the cream, and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken it.
6. Remove the fillets from the dish with a slotted spoon; divide between two warm plates or soup bowls. Keep warm.
7. Empty the cooking juice into the sauce, and boil until it is thick and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir the shelled mussels into the sauce. Remove from heat, and swirl in the butter. Pour the sauce and mussels over the sole, and sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Serves 4
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1½ hours
    1     duck, around 6 pounds, with
        Sea salt
        Freshly ground pepper
    2     tablespoons fresh rosemary
    2     tablespoons fresh thyme
    1     shallot, minced
    1     tablespoon butter
    ½     cup Port or Madeira
    8     dried apricots, chopped
    1½     ounce container beef and veal
        stock demi-glace*
    2     tablespoons balsamic vinegar
        Lemon juice, to taste (about ¼ cup)
        Sprigs of fresh thyme and/or
        rosemary, for garnish
1. Remove the fat from the interior of the duck. Cut off the wing tips. Prick the skin all over with the tines of a fork, taking care not to cut into the meat. Sprinkle it liberally with salt.
2. Chop the liver, and mash it in a bowl with salt and pepper. Mix it with the rosemary and thyme leaves, and spread it into the cavity of the duck. Tie the legs together.
3. Put the duck onto a rack that fits in a heavy-bottom casserole. Pour in enough water to come to just below the rack. Cover the casserole, and steam the duck over moderate heat for 45 minutes, making sure the water doesn’t evaporate. Any remaining fat will have drained away. Allow the duck to rest for about 10 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels. The duck may be prepared a day ahead up to this point.
4. When you are ready to roast the duck, preheat the oven to 500°. If you refrigerated the duck after steaming it, bring it to room temperature before you roast it. Place the duck on a roasting rack in a pan, and roast for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it is golden brown and the skin is crisp.
5. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a saucepan, cook the shallot in butter over medium heat, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the Port or Madeira, and bring to a boil. Add the duck neck, gizzard, apricots and 2 cups water; simmer until reduced by half.
6. When the duck is cooked, cut the threads binding its cavity. Using paper towels to protect your hands, empty the juices from the cavity into the pan of sauce. Add the demi-glace and balsamic vinegar. Bring the sauce to a boil, and simmer until it has thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the duck neck and gizzard with a slotted spoon. Check the sauce for seasoning, and add lemon juice as needed. Pour it into a warm sauceboat.
7. Transfer the duck to a platter, and decorate it with sprigs of thyme or rosemary.
*I use Demi-Glace Gold, made by More Than Gourmet and available in specialty stores.

Ask your butcher to remove the bone and every bit of fat. The meat is
protected from drying out by the mustard-herb crust.
Serves 8 to 10
Prep time: 45 minutes, at least a day before roasting
Cooking time: 2 to 3 hours, depending on whether lamb is rare, medium or well done
    1     boned leg of lamb, around 7 to
        8 pounds
    ¼    to 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
    6     garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
    3     cups fine plain bread crumbs
    4     tablespoons fresh rosemary
    4     tablespoons fresh thyme
    4     tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
    2     tablespoons grated lemon peel
    ½     cup olive oil
    ¾     teaspoon coarse sea salt
    ½     teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1. A day or two before cooking, trim any remaining fat away from the leg of lamb, and wipe dry with paper towels.
2. Put the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Process until thoroughly blended.
3. Place the lamb on a large, clean work surface, skin side down. Using your hands, press about half the crumb mixture onto the surface of the lamb. Roll and tie the lamb with string, like a parcel. Press the rest of the crumb mixture around the lamb. Wrap the lamb in foil and refrigerate overnight.
4. Bring the lamb to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450°. Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes.
5. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°, and continue to cook for 25 minutes per pound for rare, 30 for medium-rare, 35 minutes for well done. (Place a tent of foil over the lamb if the outside is browning too quickly.) Test the temperature by inserting a meat thermometer into the center of the roast. Remove the lamb from the pan, and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove string and slice.

A true carbonara has as many as five eggs, a half pound of pancetta and
6 tablespoons of butter. This recipe trims the fat from the pancetta, uses only olive oil and just two eggs.
Serves 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
    1     pound spaghetti
    ¼     pound pancetta or lean slab bacon
    1     tablespoon olive oil
    2     garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
    2     large eggs
        Salt and freshly ground pepper
    ½     cup freshly grated pecorino or
        Parmesan cheese, plus more for
        passing around at the table
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the spaghetti.
2. Chop the pancetta into small cubes, trimming as much fat as you can. Heat the oil in a skillet, and sauté the pancetta with the garlic until it is golden. Remove the garlic, and discard. Keep the pancetta warm.
3. Break the eggs into a bowl large enough to hold the spaghetti. Beat and season with pepper and salt.
4. Cook the spaghetti until al dente, 9 to 10 minutes. Reserve half a cup of cooking liquid. Drain, and add the hot spaghetti to the egg mixture. (The pasta should be hot when you toss it with the eggs, so the heat will cook them.) Toss well, add the pancetta and grated cheese, and toss some more. Add a little hot cooking liquid if the sauce needs thinning. Season with plenty of pepper, and add salt if necessary.

Serves 4
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
    ½    cup honey
    1½     cups white wine
    2     tablespoons lemon juice
    1     vanilla bean, split lengthwise
    4     pears, ripe but still firm
    1     10-ounce package frozen
        blackberries, strawberries or
        raspberries, thawed
    1     tablespoon sugar
    1     cup fat-free Greek-style yogurt
    2     tablespoons toasted pistachios,
1. Combine 4 tablespoons honey, wine, ½ cup water, lemon juice and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan.
2. Peel the pears, cut them in half, and remove their cores; add them to the liquid in the saucepan so they don’t turn brown. Cover the pears, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes, until they are barely tender when pierced with a knife. Transfer them to a large bowl.
3. Boil the poaching liquid until it has reduced to ¾ cup, about 6 minutes. Place a plate over the bowl of pears, and turn the bowl over to release any accumulated juices into the poaching liquid. Remove the vanilla bean.
4. Cool the syrup, and pour it over the pears. Cover; refrigerate or set aside.
5. Puree the thawed berries in a blender. Add sugar. Strain and set aside.
6. Spoon the blackberry puree on four plates. Place two pear halves on top. Top each with a dollop of yogurt, and sprinkle with pistachios. Drizzle 1 tablespoon honey over each dessert.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 8 minutes
Serves 4
Pair with tawny or vintage Port
    1     10-ounce package frozen
        raspberries, thawed
    4    tablespoons sugar
    1     tablespoon butter at room
    4     ounces bittersweet chocolate,
        preferably Valrhona
    4     large egg whites
        Pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. For the sauce, puree the raspberries and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a blender, and press the mixture through a strainer into a saucepan.
2. Butter 4 individual ½ cup ramekins, and set aside.
3. Chop the chocolate and melt in a double boiler. Do not allow the chocolate to overheat.
4. Put the egg whites into a large bowl, and whisk them with salt until soft peaks form. Continue to whisk, gradually adding 2 tablespoons sugar, until you have stiff peaks.
5. Gently fold the melted chocolate into the egg whites, getting rid of any streaks. Divide the soufflé mixture among the ramekins. You can prepare this mixture ½ hour ahead of time.
6. Bake the soufflés for 8 minutes. They should be puffed up, with a crusty top. Warm the raspberry puree and serve on the side.  

Moira Hodgson is the author of It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, a memoir.

Originally published in More, February 2010 as The Classics Revisited


First Published Thu, 2010-01-28 16:46

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