- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

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. At our local farmers market, I ran into a good friend I hadn’t seen all summer, and when we couldn’t seem to catch up during our brief conversation, I serendipitously 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 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. 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 vinaigrette and grated some pecorino cheese (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, although 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 to the soup. After this mixture is pureed, half-and-half and sour cream are whisked in, and, for a verdant garnish, 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.”

Creamy corn bisque with fresh basil

This soup can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat, stirring often.

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 cups chicken stock

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 texture of the soup will be 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 3 cups additional stock.

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


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