Caramelized Onion and Potato Flan
Vegetarian Minestrone

Lighten Up! What Do You Mean by 'Lighten Up'?

In our local newspaper recently was an article titled Italian twist lightens up classic French onion soup1.   The author is a well known and respected chef, author and TV personality.  The lead in says, "In my quest to slim down this French classic, I turned to Italy.  I swapped out Gruyere in favour of Parmigiano-Reggiano and moved the croutons and cheese off the top to make room for a poached egg.  Finally, I added some pancetta for flavour."

To see how "slim" the Italian version is, compared to the classics, I turned to three authoritative sources Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French CookingLarousse Gastronomique, and Auguste Escoffier's Ma Cuisine (1984), as well as The Culinary Institute of America's The New Professional Chef, and my own recipe. Using my recipe software, I loaded the ingredients from all six source, making one modification to most of the recipes.  In each case, if the recipe only specified stock or broth, I substituted the low sodium kind.  The reason for this is simply that most of the other recipes had over a full day's worth of sodium in them.  Switching to low sodium reduced this dramatically, at the cost of about 25 additional calories per serving.  It also resulted in an average of 10 more grams of protein.  All other nutrients stayed essentially the same.

In order to be sure I was comparing similar portion sizes, I scaled all of the recipes so that portions were 1¼ cups each, the same as the "Italian Twist" recipe.  The table below shows the result:

  Larousse* Escoffier** KitchenSavvy CIA Julia Child Italian Twist
Calories      121 314 294 424 477 599
Fat (g) 3 12 12 19 19 21
Protein (g) 15 21 22 31 30 36
Carbs (g) 8 31 20 27 41 57
Fiber (g) 1 2 2 3 3 7
Chol (mg) 9 29 34 59 47 230
Sodium (mg) 84 459 302 559 839 1052

* The recipe from Larousse Gastronomique does not use any cheese, which is why the results are so low for that recipe.
** Escoffier's recipe was imprecise in some measures.  Most importantly, it called for "a little bechamel" and "grated cheese".  In order to make the recipes comparable, I used ¼ cup of bechamel, which seemed right in the context, and the same amount of grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese as called for in the recipe by Julia Child.

The Italian Twist recipe is higher in calories, slightly higher in grams of fat, and off the scale in cholesterol, compared to the others.

So, how can this be?  Well, Julia Child's recipe, for example, calls for 1 to 2 cups of grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese for eight servings.  Since a pound of Swiss cheese will make about 4 cups of grated cheese, that works out, worst case, to about ½ pound of cheese in the total recipe or 1 ounce of cheese per serving - 107 calories. Instead the Italian Twist recipe uses ½ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano in a recipe for 4 servings (46 calories per serving), four large eggs (74 calories per serving), and 2 ounces of pancetta (28 calories per serving).  The twisted recipe replaced 107 calories with 148 calories.  

Nearly all of the cholesterol increase is attributable to the poached egg -- 185 of the approximately 190 mg increase.

So the Italian Twist recipe is not so slim after all.  Hence my question: "What Do You Mean by 'Lighten Up'?"


Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Saturday, January 12, 2013, pg E10

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