Your Italian Diet
Recipe: Asparagus and Celery Soup with Celery Gremolata
Many readers have told me that they really like my monthly diet column for Curves magazine. I like it too. It’s been a stimulating but at times mind-boggling challenge, coming up with 400-calorie main course meals in a bowl. One thing I’ve certainly learned is how easy it is to eat too much. And after almost two years writing the Curves column, I feel I’ve now got the thing down.
So with you in mind, I’m going to extend my Curves forum to my blog, giving you all sorts of seasonal, low-calorie, mostly Italian recipes. They won’t be as strict as the ones for Curves, and I’m not listing numbers for calories, carbs, fats, or salt. That won’t be my style here, but I will assure you that any recipe I post will be healthy, low-calorie, and sensibly portioned (if a bit more generous than the ones for Curves).
The beautiful truth is that much of Southern Italian cooking falls naturally into this category. You just need to be careful about what you choose to cook. Which is where I can really help you. I’ll be posting some classics, but mostly, as is my way, giving you fresh, creative takes on Italian themes. I won’t be going near any diet ingredients, such as reduced fat cheeses or those awful cooking sprays. You’ll get real food, with recipes composed in a contemporary, natural, and I hope elegant style.
Cutting simple carbohydrates and sugar and upping vegetables is my goal. What about fat? I’m not as fat-phobic as some diet types are. I love fats of all kinds. They add flavor. I’ll be using, in addition to delicious, monounsaturated extra-virgin olive oil, things like pork fat, fatty fish, and cheese, but I’ll work them in so they flow into the dish without taking over (did you know that olive oil and just about all fats contain 120 calories a tablespoon? I used to pour oil over my food with abandon. Now I think about what I’m adding and why. Will more oil add more flavor, or just drown the dish in a greasy slick?)
What about pasta, you ask? I could live without pasta as easily as I could live without my red Gabrielle lipstick by Chanel. It’s not gonna happen, ever. But I will change up my pasta offerings. I’ll be suggesting that you eat pasta only as a first course, the way it’s traditionally served in Italy. I’m not sure how we got so far off track with pasta in this country. The portions are totally out of control. (I know people who eat an entire pound on their own. How do they even get it down?)
Which brings me to asparagus. I thought I’d implode waiting for it to show up in my markets. Spring in New York has been and still is damn cold. Every growing thing has been late. But now we’ve got the local stuff coming in, and I can relax a little. I’ve been especially eager to cook up some asparagus soup. Every spring I look for ways to make it a little differently.
This soup is in the crema style, which in Italian culinary terms means a purée but not one that necessarily contains cream. I don’t usually add many flavors to a spring vegetable soup, preferring to keep it simple and pure, but somehow I thought of celery this time around. Celery with asparagus. Yes, that sounded right. I tried it and really liked the way the two flavors married. I finished the soup with a spoonful of Parmigiano and a gremolata made with parsley leaves, celery, and lemon. It came out really nice.
Please let me know if there are specific dishes you’d like to see here. I’m going to lay off the pizzas, paninis, and desserts for a while, since they really have no place in a weight-loss program, but anything else, just ask.
Asparagus and Celery Soup with Celery Gremolata
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 small spring onions, chopped, using some of the tender green stem
2 inner celery stalks, chopped, plus the leaves from about 5 stalks
2 pounds asparagus, the tough ends removed, blanched for about 1 minute and then plunged into ice water (this helps preserve the bright green color).
1 or 2 cloves spring garlic, sliced
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and chopped
Freshly grated black pepper
About 5 large sprigs flat-leaf parsley
The grated zest from 1 lemon, plus a squeeze of its juice
1 heaping tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil into a large soup pot. Heat it over a medium flame. Add the onion and the celery (but not the celery leaves), and sauté for about a minute, just to release their flavors. Chop the asparagus into pieces, and add them to the pot, along with the garlic and potato. Give it all a good stir, and sauté for about 3 minutes. Now add enough water to just cover the vegetables
Bring the soup to a boil, and let it cook at a low bubble, uncovered, until everything is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.
While the soup is cooking, chop the parsley and celery leaves together. Mix in the lemon zest and a pinch of salt. That’s the gremolata.
Purée the soup in a food processor or with one of those wand things (I think the food processor does a better job with asparagus, which is so fibrous).
When you’re ready to serve, reheat the soup, and then check the seasoning. Add a tiny squeeze of lemon juice, the Parmigiano, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and give it all a stir. Ladle the soup into bowls, and top each bowl with a generous sprinkling of the gremolata.