Bistro fare ends summer on high note

September 11, 1991|By Linda Gassenheimer | Linda Gassenheimer,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Affordable, fresh and healthy, American Bistro food is a hit. It's also adaptable: On a recent visit to New York City's Union Square Cafe, I sampled American Bistro dishes influenced by peasant French and Italian cooking.

Chef Michael Romano made a vichyssoise with white beans and leeks that was delicious. I have adapted his creation to make a quick, light and refreshing soup that is just right for the last few weeks of hot summer weather.

A vegetable frittata makes a perfect side dish with the soup. It is a type of omelet that is filled with flavor and can be served hot or at room temperature. A frittata is cooked very slowly for about 10 minutes, which makes it firm but not dry. You will need an omelet or frying pan that can be placed under the broiler.

Fresh herbs are available year-round in the supermarket. They ,, lend a delicate flavor to the soup. (Dried herbs are stronger and can be bitter. If you use them, make sure yours are no more than six months old.)

Another secret to the soup's flavor is cooking the leeks until they are sweet and just lightly colored. This will take about 10 minutes. You can start the frittata while they cook. To speed things up, I have used canned white beans. Be sure to rinse them well.

Serve this end-of-summer meal with a crusty French baguette and enjoy a simple American Bistro dinner for two.

White Bean Vichyssoise

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons white wine

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

1 leek, cleaned and sliced

1 stalk celery, sliced

1 19-ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans

1 14 1/2 -ounce can chicken stock

1 teaspoon each fresh rosemary, thyme and sage, or 1/2 teaspoon each dried rosemary, thyme and sage

1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

To garnish:

1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped

Heat one teaspoon of olive oil and the white wine in a small frying pan. Add the garlic and saute over a low flame without coloring for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the tablespoon of olive oil and butter in a medium-size sauce pan. Add the leek and celery and saute gently until wilted and lightly colored, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse the beans. Add to the leeks along with the chicken stock, herbs and bay leaf. Add the garlic mixture and simmer 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Puree in a blender or food processor or press through a sieve. Strain through a wire mesh sieve to give a uniform consistency to the soup. Serve either warm or at room temperature with a sprinkling of chives as a garnish on top. Serves two.

Arugula and Radicchio Frittata

2 eggs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and black pepper to taste

1/2 tablespoon butter or margarine

1/2 cup arugula, washed and sliced

1/2 cup radicchio leaves, washed and sliced

Preheat the broiler. Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the cheese and a little salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a small omelet or frying pan and add the arugula and radicchio. Saute a minute or until the leaves are wilted. Pour in the egg mixture. Turn the heat to lowest possible setting. Cook gently until the eggs are set and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Place the pan under the broiler for one minute or until any runny parts are set. Try not to brown the top. Loosen the frittata all the way around with a knife and slide onto a serving plate. Cut in wedges and serve. Serves two.

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