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A French Feast That Won’t Widen Your Waistline

This easy summer menu is both healthful and delectable

Esther Mobley
Posted: August 8, 2014

Summertime urges lightness. The season’s greatest pastimes—those that involve physical activity outdoors—are best enjoyed when one is feeling fit. In fact, heat and humidity suppress the appetite by triggering a rise in blood glucose, demanding lighter food. There’s never a better time than the peak summer months to embrace healthy cooking.

French chef Michel Guérard, though heir to a culinary tradition steeped in staples such as butter, bread and cheese, has staked his career on the premise that it is possible to eat healthily without having to eat so-called health food. Guérard shared with Wine Spectator some of his thoughts on this style of cuisine, which he has dubbed cuisine minceur, or “slimming cooking”; he discussed his cooking philosophy in a Wine Spectator Q&A.

“Any diet or change in eating habits requires an incentive if it is to work,” Guérard writes in his new cookbook, Eat Well and Stay Slim: The Essential Cuisine Minceur (Frances Lincoln, April 2014, $40). “You cannot expect a normal human being to deprive her or himself indefinitely of certain foods and live in a state of permanent culinary frustration, day after day.” That’s music to the ears of a food and wine lover.

Here, Guérard presents a summer menu, with recipes taken from his new book. His tomato tart appetizer capitalizes on one of the season’s most precious gems: ripe, juicy tomatoes, preferably heirloom. Following the tart is a lemon sole entrée, and a home cook–friendly panna cotta for dessert.

Wine, whose potential health benefits range from lowering the risk of kidney disease to improving eyesight, is a natural partner to this light menu. We suggest assembling a flight of three Sauvignon Blancs, each a distinctive expression of the grape: a racy and clean Sancerre that stands up to the acidity of the tomatoes in the tart; a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc whose herbal and citrus flavors play off the lemons and capers in the sole dish; and a sweet Sauternes, here, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle, with bright, juicy fruit notes to accent the dessert’s raspberry coulis, and firm acidity to cut through the creamy texture of the panna cotta.

Skinny Tomato Tarts

Recipes adapted from Eat Well and Stay Slim: The Essential Cuisine Minceur (Frances Lincoln, April 2014, $40)

Suggested wine pairing: Henri Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc Vin de Pays du Val de Loire Petit Bourgeois 2012 (88, $13)

“Store-bought puff pastry often has a lower fat content than the homemade variety,” advises Guérard. Note that he recommends substituting a sweetener like fructose for ordinary sugar. “In cooking, powdered fructose is an attractive substitute for sugar by virtue of the fact that when it is heated and cooked, it guarantees a good balance between stability, sweetening capacity and calorie count,” he writes. As with any type of sweetener, Guérard does not suggest consuming large quantities of fructose; happily, only a small pinch is required for this savory tart.

This dish has 130 calories per serving.

  • 3 1/2 ounces puff pastry, homemade or ready-made, thawed if frozen
  • 1/2 bunch fresh basil, leaves only, sliced, plus a few extra for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon concentrated tomato paste
  • 1 pound plus 2 ounces medium tomatoes, peeled
  • Pinch of thyme
  • Pinch of fructose or other sweetener
  • Salt and pepper

1. Divide the puff pastry into 4 quarters and roll into balls. Using a rolling pin, roll out each ball into a circle 5 1/2 to 6 inches in diameter and 1/16 inch thick. Put the circles onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put into the refrigerator.

2. In a saucepan of lightly salted water, blanch the sliced basil leaves for 10 seconds. Drain the leaves and refresh in cold water; drain again. Chop the leaves finely and mix with the tomato paste.

3. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Spread the tomato-basil mixture onto the chilled puff pastry, leaving a 1/4-inch border.

4. Cut the peeled tomatoes into 1/8-inch slices. Tap them lightly to get rid of the seeds. Carefully lay the tomatoes on top of the tomato-basil mixture without overlapping, respecting the 1/4-inch border. If there are too many empty spaces due to the missing seeds, fill them with pulp from another tomato. Sprinkle the thyme and fructose onto the tarts and season with salt and pepper. Bake the tarts in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until the pastry is golden and slightly puffed. Decorate each tart with fresh basil leaves, and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Lemon Sole Grenobloise

Suggested wine pairings: Auntsfield Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Single Vineyard 2013 (89, $21)
Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Pioneer Block 24 Arthur 2013 (91, $27)

“The term Grenobloise refers to the region around Grenoble where combinations of capers, lemon and croutons are common, and usually bound in a brown butter sauce,” explains Guérard. This recipe updates the brown-butter version of that sauce to one based on the lighter components of soy sauce and vinaigrette. The bold flavors of anchovies, lemon, capers and mushrooms are likely to make you forget about butter altogether.

This dish has 230 calories per serving.

  • Croutons made with 1 to 2 thick slices of day-old bread
  • 4 fillets of lemon sole, skin removed, about 14 ounces total
  • Salt and pepper

For the sauce:

  • 4 fillets anchovies, preserved in salt
  • 7 tablespoons light vinaigrette
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

For the accompaniment:

  • 1 large lemon
  • 3/4 ounce capers
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 1/2 ounces girolles or other mushrooms, wiped and cut in half or in quarters
  • 2 baby cabbages, cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. If making croutons from scratch, preheat the oven to 300° F.

2. For the sauce, briefly soak the anchovy fillets in cold water to remove their salt. Drain and pat them dry, then chop and transfer them to a food processor along with the light vinaigrette and soy sauce. Blend to make a sauce. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve to ensure smoothness and set aside, covered, in a warm place.

3. For the croutons, cut off and discard the crusts from the bread and cut into small, even-sized cubes. Spread these out on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, or until crisp and slightly golden.

4. While the croutons are being baked, make the accompaniment. Remove the peel and pith from the lemon using a small, sharp knife, cutting along the sides of the membranes to free the segments. Cut the segments into 1/4-inch pieces. Combine the diced lemon with the capers in a small bowl or cup, covered with a splash of hot water. Keep this garnish warm. Sauté the girolles in the olive oil until they flop. Season and keep warm.

5. Prepare a steamer or couscoussier for the fish and, at the same time, bring lightly salted water to a boil in a large saucepan for the cabbage. Simmer the cabbage halves for about 5 minutes and steam the sole for about 4 minutes.

6. To serve, have ready 4 warm serving plates. Arrange a fillet of sole along the center of each plate. Drizzle a little of the sauce over part of each fillet. Scatter the drained lemon dice and capers, the croutons and the chopped parsley over the other part. Add a portion of girolles and a cabbage half. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Herb-Scented Panna Cotta With Raspberries

Suggested wine pairing: Château Filhot Sauternes 2009 (90, $30)

Keep in mind that the panna cotta will need to set in the refrigerator for about three hours; the active preparation time, however, should take only about 30 minutes.

This dish’s calorie count depends on which sweetener you use: with fructose, it will have 170 calories; aspartame, 140; xylitol, 175; sugar, 205; honey, 185.

  • 2 cups 2 percent milk
  • 1/4 cup light cream
  • Large handful of fresh verbena leaves or mint leaves, rinsed and dried
  • 3 sheets of leaf gelatin, soaked, or 2 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
  • 3 heaped tablespoons plus a pinch of aspartame or other sweetener for the raspberries (optional)
  • 14 ounces fresh raspberries
  • 4 sprigs of verbena or mint, for garnish

1. In a saucepan set over a medium heat, bring the milk and cream briefly to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the verbena or mint leaves, pushing them down with a wooden spoon to immerse them completely. Cover the saucepan with a lid and leave the mixture to infuse for at least 15 minutes. Strain the infused mixture through a fine sieve set over a mixing bowl and discard the leaves.

2. Ladle about 1 cup of the infused mixture into a saucepan and heat it without allowing the milk to boil; remove from the heat. Dissolve and combine the gelatin with the warm infused mixture, whisking well until the gelatin has completely dissolved and is smoothly blended. Add this warm mixture to the remaining infused mixture and continue to whisk until the gelatin has been absorbed evenly throughout. Add the sweetener and whisk again.

3. Divide the panna cotta mixture between 4 small dessert bowls or moulds. Put them on a small tray that will fit into the refrigerator and chill for at least 3 hours.

4. To make the raspberry coulis, put half the raspberries into the bowl of a food processor along with 3 tablespoons of cold water and blend to a puree. Pass the puree through a nylon sieve and discard the pips. Stir just enough sweetener into the coulis to remove any excess sharpness. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator.

5. Put the bowls of panna cotta on underplates. Very gently combine 12 to 16 of the remaining whole raspberries with the coulis, taking care not to crush the fruit. Divide the coulis mixture between the bowls. Add the remaining whole raspberries to the underplates, along with sprigs of verbena or mint. Serves 4.

More From Chef Michel Guérard:

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