- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall is the time of year when our home in western Massachusetts becomes a mini bed-and-breakfast. Our calendar reflects that everyone likes to come to New England when the leaves start to turn.

We have longtime friends from Ohio stopping to spend the night as they wind their way northward to Maine on a leaf expedition. A few weeks later, another couple will arrive from the Midwest to take advantage of this exquisite season, and I still have to confirm several dates for others who plan to be in our area for some leaf-peeping.

I love catching up with friends and sharing our autumnal beauty, but I have learned over the years to keep the cooking for such occasions simple. My menus for entertaining overnight guests reflect this philosophy. Take, for example, the scallop and corn chowder featured today. It’s a perfect example of the kind of fare I like to serve on fall weekends.

I pair the last of the year’s fresh corn with sea scallops that have been dusted with smoked paprika (the Spanish pimenton), cumin and pepper. Other chowder mainstays — potatoes, bacon and onion — also contribute to the delectable taste and enticing texture.

What I like best about this chowder is that it can be offered as a main course along with a mixed-greens salad and some warm crusty bread. Another plus is that this potage can be almost completely prepared a day ahead. At serving time, the scallops are sauteed quickly and added to the pot.

This delectable dish even reflects the colors of fall — the golden hues of the corn kernels and the deep rust spice coating on the scallops are redolent of the leaves in our back yard.

Fall scallop and corn chowder

Water

1 pound large redskin potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice

4 cups fresh or frozen corn, divided

2 cups chicken stock, divided

8 thick smoked bacon slices, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 cup chopped onion

Vegetable or olive oil for cooking the scallops

11/3 cups half-and-half

Kosher salt

1 pound large sea scallops, side muscles removed

1½ teaspoons smoked paprika (see note)

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons chopped chives

Bring a medium pot of water set over high heat to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender, but not mushy when pierced with a knife, about 10 minutes. Strain and set aside.

Puree 2 cups of the corn with 1 cup of the chicken stock in a food processor or blender and set aside.

In a large, heavy pot set over medium heat, saute the bacon until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the drippings in the pot. Add onions and remaining 2 cups of corn. Saute, stirring, until onions are softened and corn starts to brown lightly, about 5 to 6 minutes. (If using frozen corn, saute an extra 2 to 3 minutes to bring out its sweetness.)

Stir in the remaining 1 cup chicken stock and the pureed corn mixture. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add potatoes, bacon and half-and-half, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. Be careful not to let the soup come to a boil once the half-and-half has been added.

Season with salt to taste. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead to this point; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over low heat.) Remove pot from the heat and cover to keep warm while you prepare the scallops.

Pat scallops dry, then quarter them. Mix smoked paprika, cumin, black pepper and cayenne in a small bowl, then spread mixture on a dinner plate. Coat scallops on all sides with the spice mixture.

Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a large, heavy skillet set over medium high heat. When hot, add enough scallops to fit comfortably in the pan and saute 1 to 2 minutes per side, until just seared. Remove and continue until all scallops are sauteed. Season with salt.

Ladle chowder into 6 soup bowls, then divide the scallops evenly among the bowls. Garnish each serving with chopped chives. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Spanish smoked paprika, called pimenton — preferably pimenton de la Vera — is available in gourmet food stores and in some groceries. There is sweet (dulce), medium-hot (agridulce) and hot (picante). For this recipe, I used the sweet. You also can order it from Penzey’s (www.penzeys.com) or from La Tienda (www.tienda.com).

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “The Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

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