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FOOD : Stirring Up the Familiar BLT : A New York Restaurant Serves Its Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato in a Bowl

January 10, 1988|BETSY BALSLEY | Betsy Balsley is The Times' food editor.

ONCE IN A while you come across a menu item so simple, yet so wonderful, that you wonder why no restaurant ever offered it to you before. That's just what happened when a group of food editors with strong California ties dropped into Bud's on Columbus Avenue in New York for a late lunch one day recently.

Bud's itself started out with strong Southern California ties. It was a spinoff from the very successful Jams, which was opened in the Big Apple several years ago by former Los Angeles chef (at Michael's) Jonathan Waxman and his partner, Melvin Masters. The partnership has since split up (amicably), with Waxman taking Jams and Masters at Bud's. But even with Waxman off into other enterprises, the food at Bud's, under the guidance of Masters' accomplished chef, Manny Goldman, has strong California overtones. The recipe that earned raves from the visiting editors is a case in point.

This really is a remarkably simple dish. It's nothing more than a very fresh tomato soup called, for what are obvious reasons, BLT Soup. Goldman serves the soup hot with just a sprinkling of crispy bits of freshly cooked bacon and a light chiffonade of romaine. The name intrigues you; the flavor wins you over.

Certainly you can't fault the ingredients. Who hasn't been perfectly content on occasion with nothing more than a classic bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich? So why not simply adapt those classic ingredients to a more trendy presentation? There are no surprises, but sometimes it's nice to rely on a known taste.

Goldman serves his BLT Soup with a delicious and eminently compatible Walnut-Onion Bread prepared by Bud's pastry chef, Laurie Morton. The thinly sliced bread, lightly brushed with bacon fat and then toasted to a crunchy brown, is the perfect companion for the tangy soup.

Goldman's BLT Soup is an ideal choice for a light post-holiday meal. It would even work well for a buffet first course, served in a tureen with the crumbled bacon and shredded lettuce on the side so that everyone can add as much as he or she prefers.

BUD'S BACON, LETTUCE AND TOMATO SOUP

16 slices bacon

1 large white onion, diced

10 large very ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded

2 cups canned tomato puree

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart unsalted chicken broth

Salt, pepper, hot pepper sauce

Walnut-Onion Bread

1 cup finely shredded romaine lettuce

Cook bacon until crisp. Drain well, reserving fat, and crumble. In a large, heavy saucepan saute onions in cup reserved bacon fat just until wilted. Add garlic, cook briefly. (Do not let onions and garlic brown.) Add tomatoes, tomato puree and stock. Bring mixture to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until tomatoes begin to fall apart, about 15 minutes. Press mixture through colander or food mill, discarding any remaining pulp. Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce. Return to pan, reheating if necessary.

Meanwhile, brush -inch-thick slices of Walnut-Onion Bread with reserved bacon fat and toast under broiler just until crisp and golden.

To serve, ladle soup into shallow bowls and sprinkle lightly with crumbled bacon and shredded lettuce. Serve toasted Walnut-Onion Bread on the side. Makes 8 servings.

Walnut-Onion Bread

1 package dry yeast

1 cup warm milk

cup butter

2 3/4 cups bread flour, about

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup finely diced red onions

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Blend yeast into cup warm milk and let stand about 10 minutes. Add butter to remaining 3/4 cup milk and stir to melt. Mix flour with sugar and salt. Add milk and butter to flour mixture and let cool slightly. Add yeast mixture. Mix well. Turn out on floured board and knead until elastic and soft. Sprinkle with additional flour while kneading, if needed, to keep it from sticking. Place kneaded dough in greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise 2 hours in warm draft-free place or until doubled.

Punch down, turn out on floured board and knead in onions and walnuts until they are evenly distributed. Cut into 2 pieces and shape into long, thin loaves (baguette shapes) about 1 1/2 inches thick. Let stand 45 minutes uncovered in warm draft-free spot. Place loaves on parchment paper on baking sheets and bake at 400 degrees about 25 to 30 minutes, or until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Makes 2 loaves. Serve warm, cold or toasted.

Styling by Wendy Blasdel / Dishes and placemats courtesy of the Broadway, Glendale Galleria.

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