- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

Grocery shopping makes me giddy this time of the year, when summer’s bounty converges with the introduction of fall produce.

Tempting as it is to limit myself to the last of the warm weather crops, such as corn and tomatoes, I also want a first taste of hard-shell squash, pears, apples and other fall specialties.

Even if you’re not particularly fond of fruits and vegetables, take a look through your supermarket produce section. You’ll find plenty in there and at farmers markets to pique your interest.

Cooking with seasonal produce has several advantages. It’s less expensive and the quality is better. Because you have more to choose from, you can pick the best. Just-harvested ingredients taste sweeter or more delicate so you can prepare a delicious meal faster and with less fuss. And you won’t have to doctor your recipes with a lot of seasonings.

As a soup lover I enjoy the aroma, color and texture that fruits and vegetables bring to the bowl. Soup can be as simple as sauteed fresh corn and chiles in a light cream base or as complex as a puree of pears, squash and eau de vie, a fruit brandy.

For both of these soups, it’s important to use the highest quality produce. Avoid fruits and vegetables that are scarred, wrinkled, bruised or have a sour smell indicating over-ripeness.

In the balmy days of September, serve cold corn soup with a spinach salad and crusty bread. Then when the first hint of autumn hits, bring out the squash and prepare robust roast pear and squash soup accompanied by corn muffins.

Roast pear and squash soup

1 large pear, cut lengthwise in half

1 1-pound butternut squash, cut lengthwise in half

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for oiling pan

2 strips bacon

1 small onion, chopped

¼ cup pear eau de vie, pear brandy or pear juice

2 cups chicken broth

½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

½ cup half-and-half

Salt and pepper to taste

Place pear and squash halves on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil brushed with olive oil. Drizzle the pear and squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place in 400-degree oven. Remove pears after 30 to 45 minutes, or when tender. Remove squash after 45 minutes to 1 hour, or when tender. Peel and seed the pear and squash. Set aside.

Fry bacon in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until crisp. Remove. Add onion and cook over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until transparent. Pour off any excess fat. Add pear eau de vie and scrape up any browned bits. Stir in the pear, squash and 1 cup chicken broth.

Puree using an immersion blender or remove to a blender or food processor and blend. Return soup to saucepan. Stir in remaining 1 cup chicken broth, rosemary, half-and-half and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 10 minutes or until hot. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle over the soup. Makes 2 servings.

Corn soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1½ cups corn kernels (2 medium ears of corn)

1 tablespoon minced jalapeno chili

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup half-and-half

1 cup milk

½ teaspoon salt

Pepper

2 scallions, green parts only, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add corn, jalapeno and cumin and saute over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until corn is tender. Remove from heat. Add half-and-half, milk, salt, pepper to taste, scallion and cilantro. Refrigerate 1 hour or until cold.

Makes 2 servings

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