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MICROWAVE

Vegetable Chowders: Save the Clams

January 06, 1994|MARCIA CONE and THELMA SNYDER

You might think of tossing out the stems and stalks of vegetables, but don't. They are high in flavor and great for making vegetable broths.

Vegetable broths are a good base for vegetable chowders. Although the vegetables used may vary with the season, we always try to combine four or five varieties. In the spring, there are usually plenty of asparagus stems, and in the fall and winter, we add potato peelings. Sweet potato peels are our preference, but a mix of potatoes is fine. Just a slice of fresh ginger lifts broths of any season to new heights, as does lemon zest.

What follows is a basic broth recipe that gives you the liberty to improvise with what is available at the time. When there is an abundance of vegetables and herbs, it is wise to cook up several broths and freeze them for busier times. Making a simple broth with just the addition of some noodles or rice and a handful of fresh vegetables served with some bread, cheese and fruit is our idea of a light Friday-night or Sunday-night meal.

Or the broth may be fashioned into a tasty vegetable chowder. There is a choice here of the "creamy" chowder from New England or the tomato-based chowder from New York. The ingredients vary with what is available in the garden.

If you want to beef up the chowders, add two cups of sliced leftover poultry or fish in the last five minutes to make a more substantial meal. Either way we find these chowders restorative.

think of the difference between a sponge you might buy at the supermarket, one with the surface stamped into uniformity by some automated machine, and a sponge you might buy at a bathshop, one in which its irregular structure has been preserved.

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You won't save a lot of time with this broth because you're simmering a lot of liquid to develop flavor. The broth lasts for a week in the refrigerator and can be frozen for up to six months.

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VEGETABLE BROTH

1/2 pound carrots, coarsely chopped 2 onions, quartered 2 cups thinly sliced celery stalks and leaves 1 cup potato peels (preferably sweet potato) 1 cup mushroom stems 1 cup chopped parsley leaves and stems 3 cloves garlic, smashed 1 bay leaf, crushed 3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or basil 1 (1/8-inch) slice ginger root, optional Zest 1/2 lemon, optional 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon black peppercorns 8 cups water

Combine carrots, onions, celery, potato peels, mushroom stems, parsley and garlic in 4-quart microwave-safe casserole. Cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 15 minutes, stirring after 8 minutes.

Add bay leaf, thyme, tarragon, ginger root, lemon zest, salt, peppercorns and water. Cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH 1 hour. Strain and discard solids. Use broth as base for soups. Makes 6 cups.

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"CREAMY" VEGETABLE CHOWDER

1 teaspoon olive oil 1 medium onion, chopped 1/2 pound red potatoes, not peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1/2 pound sweet potatoes, not peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 cup nonfat milk 1/2 pound summer squash, zucchini or yellow, quartered and cut into 1/4-inch slices 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley plus 1 teaspoon dried basil 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 cups Vegetable Broth or broth made with vegetable cubes

Combine olive oil, onion and red and sweet potatoes in 3-quart microwave-safe casserole. Cover with lid or vented plastic wrap, turned back slightly on 1 side, and microwave on HIGH (100% power) until tender, about 12 minutes.

Combine cornstarch with 1/4 cup milk and stir into vegetables. Add remaining 3/4 cup milk, squash, basil, cayenne, nutmeg and Vegetable Broth. Cover and microwave on HIGH until cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

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MANHATTAN VEGETABLE CHOWDER

1 teaspoon olive oil 1 onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 1 cup thinly sliced carrots 1 cup thinly sliced celery 1 green pepper, cut into squares 1/2 pound red potatoes, not peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 3 cups Vegetable Broth 2 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes 2 cups sliced Swiss chard leaves, spinach or sorrel 1 cup 2-inch-cut string beans, peas or corn 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil 2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Combine olive oil, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, green pepper and potatoes in 3-quart microwave-safe casserole. Cover with lid or plastic wrap, turned back slightly on 1 side, and microwave on HIGH (100% power) until vegetables are tender, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once.

Add Vegetable Broth, tomatoes, Swiss chard, string beans, basil and thyme. Cover again and microwave on HIGH 12 minutes, stirring once. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese before serving. Makes 4 servings.

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