Versatile dishes can make weekend dining the best of times 7/8

May 30, 1993|By Molly O'Neill | Molly O'Neill,New York Times News Service

The would-be world champions of summer are training and dreaming again. Duffers imagine Arnold Palmer as they practice teeing off in the back yard. Softball sluggers oil their gloves and imagine the playoffs: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded -- it's a grand slam, and the fans go wild.

Summer refuels childhood dreams. And not unlike would-be sports stars, hosts flex their conviviality muscles when days get longer. Flawless summer entertaining is, for the host, the ultimate playhouse fantasy. One part technique, 99 parts strategy, it requires a "mental game plan," says Michael McLaughlin, author of "Cooking for the Weekend: Foods for the Best of Times" (Simon & Schuster, 1993).

The cooks of summer, preparing for weekend house guests, need to be sensitive to warm-weather appetites, to the siren call of fresh air and leisure. Simple grilling, and food that can be made ahead, make a certain kind of seasonal sense. But the tie-breaker of summer entertaining, like that of a well-matched doubles game, is strategy.

"With a good plan," Mr. McLaughlin said, "the bulk of a weekend's cooking can be done leisurely on Saturday morning." If the cook prepares large quantities of each recipe, there will be leftovers, all fair game for imaginative recycling for a weekend's entertaining.

Planning a menu that can be made in large quantities is essential for weekend entertaining. A host expecting weekend guests should shop ahead and, well before guests arrive, prepare the recipes that will keep, saving the most perishable for the last minute.

Begin with baking, since most cakes remain fresh for several days. Choose a confection that can play dessert as well as breakfast, like blueberry crumb cake. As a dessert, slices of the cake can be garnished with whipped cream, a compote of fresh berries or ice cream. For breakfast, slices can be toasted and served with butter, fresh ricotta or mascarpone.

The accompanying cake recipe is easily doubled or tripled, depending on the number of guests.

A cold soup, like Mr. McLaughlin's yellow tomato soup, can be served as a first course for lunch or dinner. It can also be used as a sauce for couscous or rice salad, with the addition of minced fresh vegetables and herbs. Warmed and with the addition of seafood, the soup makes a pleasing pasta sauce as well.

Farfalle, arugula and tomato salad keep well for up to three days in the refrigerator and can become part of a dinner buffet or serve as a main course for lunch.

Braised salmon can make a main course for dinner or, flaked with either mayonnaise or olive oil, a noble sandwich. Tossed with fresh-cooked pasta and additional minced dill in a lemon vinaigrette, the salmon can also become the backbone of lunch or Sunday dinner. Or it can be flaked into the yellow tomato soup to make a pasta sauce.

Summer grants the leisure for such cooking. The season also issues a challenge of balancing kitchen work with the charms of an endless afternoon. Summer weekends are a rare opportunity to have it all, if, at the outset,

there is a plan.

Chilled tomato soup with black-olive cream

Serves eight.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 large leeks (white part only), well-cleaned and chopped

1 tablespoon finely minced fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried

2 bay leaves

2 pounds plum tomatoes, preferably yellow, trimmed and cut in chunks

3 1/2 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium canned

2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup olivada (black olive puree) or 1/2 cup pitted imported black olives pureed with 1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup whipping cream

2 red plum tomatoes, trimmed and diced, for garnish

To make the soup, melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the leeks, thyme and bay leaves. Cover, and cook 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. Stir in the tomatoes, chicken broth, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the tomatoes are soft and the soup has thickened, about 25 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Cool slightly, remove the bay leaves, and puree in a food $H processor. Place in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until cold, at least 5 hours. The soup can be prepared to this point up to 2 days ahead.

To make the olive cream, put the olivada in a small bowl and whisk in the cream. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning if needed. Ladle into chilled bowls, and drizzle with the black olive cream. Sprinkle with diced red tomatoes. Serve immediately.

Total time: 1 hour, plus at least 5 hours for chilling.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 180 calories, 6 grams fat, 40 milligrams cholesterol, 235 milligrams sodium, 25 grams protein, 70 grams carbohydrate.

(Adapted from "Cooking for the Weekend" by Michael McLaughlin)

Farfalle, arugula and tomato salad

Serves eight.

1/2 pound farfalle, cooked, drained and rinsed

3 cups stemmed and torn arugula

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

2 large tomatoes, cut in 1/2 -inch pieces

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

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