Last-minute dinners can be simple, fun

September 09, 2006|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

A spur-of-the-moment dinner for friends is often far simpler and a lot more fun than one I've planned two weeks in advance. I feel less pressured to have the house cleaned to the nines, thus avoiding the usual tiff with my spouse about his picking up piles of books and pairs of shoes strewn throughout our home.

Last-minute menus require simplicity, so I base mine on what's in the fridge and on what I can quickly pick up at the store -- I don't even make a grocery list. Best of all, though, inviting someone to come and share a meal with you at the last moment seems to give host and guest alike a lift, adding a spark to an ordinary day.

This was the experience I had last week. I ran into a good friend whom I hadn't seen all summer at our local farmers' market, and when we couldn't seem to catch up during our brief conversation, I asked if she was free to join my husband and me for a simple supper that night. I knew that I had a pot of creamy corn bisque in my refrigerator (a dish I had been working on for several days) and that I could round out the meal with some great selections from the farmers' stands.

At the market I bought some red and yellow tomatoes and a bunch of arugula for a salad, then added a loaf of crusty peasant bread and some biscotti to my basket. Peaches and blueberries were other purchases. Voila! In only a few minutes, my menu was decided.

At home, I arranged a mound of arugula on a platter, surrounded it with tomato slices, then drizzled both with some vinaigrette, and grated some pecorino (from my refrigerator) over the salad. The peaches were sliced and tossed with the berries in lemon juice and sugar, then spooned into wine glasses to be served with the biscotti for dessert.

The corn soup, which anchored the meal, was a definite winner and tasted delicious even though it had been made two days before. To prepare it, fresh corn kernels and chopped leeks are sauteed, then simmered in chicken stock until tender. A generous accent of red pepper flakes adds a distinctive bit of heat. After this mixture is pureed, half-and-half and sour cream are whisked in, and for a verdant garnish, some julienned basil is sprinkled over each serving.

At the end of that stress-free night defined by good conversation and simple dishes, my husband looked at me and said, "We should entertain like this more often!"

Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.

Creamy Corn Bisque With Fresh Basil

Makes 4 large servings or 6 smaller (1 cup) servings

1/4 cup olive oil

4 cups corn kernels (from about 6 to 7 large ears of corn)

2 cups chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 to 4 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup half-and-half

1/4 cup sour cream

3 tablespoons finely julienned basil, plus 4 to 6 basil sprigs for garnish

Heat the olive oil until hot in a large, deep-sided pot (with a lid) set over medium heat. Add the corn and leeks and cook, stirring constantly, to soften the vegetables slightly, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and red pepper flakes and cook and stir 1 minute more.

Add 4 cups of the stock and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat and cover the pot. Cook at a gentle simmer until the corn and leeks are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and puree the soup in small batches in a food processor or blender, taking care because the mixture will be very hot. (You can also puree the soup in the pot using an immersion blender, but again be careful, as the soup will be quite hot.) When pureed, the soup will have a texture that is slightly chunky, not completely smooth. Return the soup to the pot in which it was cooked.

Whisk the half-and-half into the soup, then whisk in the sour cream. Taste and season the soup with more salt if needed. If the soup is too thick, thin it with up to 1/2 cup additional stock. (The soup can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat, stirring often.)

To serve, ladle the soup into 4 large or 6 medium soup bowls. Garnish each serving with some julienned basil and with a basil sprig. Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 6 servings): 296 calories, 9 grams protein, 16 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 34 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 12 milligrams cholesterol, 878 milligrams sodium

Recipe analysis provided by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

Menu for a Spontaneous Get-Together

Red and Yellow Tomatoes Over Arugula with Grated Pecorino

Crusty Peasant Bread

Creamy Corn Bisque with Fresh Basil

Peaches and Berries in Lemon Juice and Sugar with Biscotti

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