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  • Photo by Dione Duhon

With the holidays in full swing, bite-sized finger foods that excite the taste buds without compromising the waistline are a great component for any party menu. They're even better when they're easy to make.

  Grilled vegetable Provencal from executive chef Dione Duhon of The Fit Gourmet of New Orleans (621-6788; www.fitgourmetofneworleans.com) fills the bill by putting a fresh vegetarian spin on an old favorite. Duhon, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu London, trained under the late chef Jamie Shannon of Commander's Palace and started her catering business earlier this year. She specializes in entrees that are both healthy and flavorful and delivers them seven days a week to a discerning clientele of locals. Orders can be placed online or by phone and deliveries can be made to homes or offices.

  "I have been a chef in fine-dining French cuisine for 11 years," says the New Orleans native. "I want to eat (foods that are) healthy and taste delicious, fabulous ingredients. If I don't eat it myself, I'm not going to serve it to you."

  With New Orleans still rebuilding and residents working harder than ever in a depressed economy, Duhon's aim is to help relieve the stress of daily living. "New Orleans really needs [The Fit Gourmet]," she says. "People are working more and have less personal time. At work, they go for the quick lunch, but the quick lunch is fattening. That's where we come in. We deliver. I'm like your mom packing your lunch for the day. You don't have to worry about it."

  Duhon's philosophy of living and eating well on a daily basis carries over into her recommendations for the holidays. In addition to having an appetite-satisfying, steak-like flavor when grilled, the vegetable/fruits (technically tomatoes and zucchini are both fruits) called for in this recipe have numerous health benefits. Tomatoes are a superfood rich in nutrients including vitamins C (a powerful antioxidant reported to have anti-inflammatory properties), A and B, as well as the antioxidant lycopene, which helps prevent heart disease and protects against cancer. Tomatoes also help lower cholesterol, and some aspects of their nutrients, such as lycopene, actually improve with cooking.

  One medium zucchini, which is high in vitamin C and lutein, has just 25 calories. Its high water content also makes it an ideal food for weight loss.

  Eggplant is a good source of vitamins C, K and B6, thiamin, folate, potassium, manganese and dietary fiber. Garlic strengthens the immune system, helps lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.

  Seasonal vegetables such as butternut squash, which is packed with vitamins E, A, C and B6, also can be used.


Chef Dione Duhon's Grilled Vegetable Provencal

1 puff pastry sheet (set aside)

2 eggplant

3 zucchini

3 squash

6 tomatoes

1 bunch fresh basil

1 onion

1 head of garlic

  Slice eggplant, zucchini and squash into discs and saute separately in light olive oil until cooked.

  To make fresh tomato-basil sauce, dice four tomatoes into small pieces. Chiffonade the fresh basil by rolling the leaves together and cutting horizontally into small strips. Caramelize onions by slicing into strips and sauteing with olive oil until golden brown. To roast the garlic, cut a whole head in half at its center, coat with 1 tablespoon olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil and cook in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. When done, squeeze garlic out of pods. Combine all ingredients in small sauce pan and stir until it reaches a sauce consistency.

  To prepare the hors d'oeuvres, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out a sheet of puff pastry and place on a non-stick sheet pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and place a sheet pan on top of the pastry to deflate. Once deflated, spoon an even layer of tomato-basil sauce onto pastry. Place one layer of eggplant on top of sauce so the edges of the eggplant barely touch. Place a layer of squash on top of the eggplant. Place a layer of zucchini on top of the squash. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Dice remaining tomatoes and place on top of the hors d'oeuvres.


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