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3 suggestions for quick, easy but tasty suppers

Try fennel soup, fried catfish or pork chop dish

SHARE 3 suggestions for quick, easy but tasty suppers

Here are three recipes for quick dinners during January.

If you prefer not to eat endangered fish, farm-raised catfish usually get a green light from sustainable-seafood advocates. Unlike many types of shrimp, which have caused devastation to areas where they are farmed, most catfish are raised in closed freshwater ponds that create little environmental impact.

Dipping catfish in a cornmeal batter and frying them up in a pan seems like the obvious way to go. Today's recipe also comes with tartar sauce featuring mayonnaise, lemon juice, capers and pickles. We happened to have caper berries and French cornichons in the fridge, which made for a mighty good tartar sauce, but any pickles and capers will do.

The recipe for pork chops with sautéed spinach, raisins and nuts also could work with boneless, skinless chicken or turkey breasts (though these take more like 10 minutes to cook — brown them in the pan and then finish them in a hot oven). It's just a very simple formula for putting together a foursquare meal.

If you would like to reduce the amount of fat, omit the nuts.

Though red bell peppers are a summer vegetable, they're usually still available without much of a mark-up. The anise flavor of the fennel is a good match for these sweet peppers. Though the soup gets some texture from all its vegetables, the crisp and light polenta croutons turn it into dinner.

If you use vegetable or mock chicken stock, this can be a vegetarian main course.


RED PEPPER & FENNEL SOUP WITH POLENTA CROUTONS

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 large red bell peppers, seeded, deribbed, chopped

3 small fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced

2 1/2 onions, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons dried thyme

10 cups low-salt vegetable or chicken stock

2 to 3 teaspoons salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

To finish:

2 (16-ounce) logs plain precooked polenta

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Reserved fennel fronds, coarsely chopped

6 ounces low-fat sour cream

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add peppers, fennel, onions and carrots. Stir until coated with oil. Increase heat, cover and sweat for 20 minutes, stirring often, until vegetables are tender. Adjust heat if vegetables start to stick to pan. Add thyme; stir for a few minutes. Add stock, bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook for 20 minutes longer, until vegetables are completely soft. Purée in a food mill, discarding skins, or purée in a food processor or blender, then strain through a fine mesh sieve. Adjust seasoning.

If freezing, see Note.

To finish: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice polenta into 1-inch rounds. Cut each slice into bite-size wedges. Place wedges on a nonstick baking sheet or one covered with wax paper. Toss gently with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toast without stirring for 20 minutes, until browned and crisp.

Serve soup with the warm polenta croutons; garnish with fennel fronds and sour cream. Serves 12.

Freezing note: Let soup cool to room temperature. Freeze in 2 separate batches in airtight containers (each containing 6 cups and serving 4). To serve, prepare fresh polenta croutons and garnish with sour cream and fennel fronds or chopped parsley, dill or chives.

PER SERVING: 545 calories, 10 g protein, 60 g carbohydrate, 31 g fat (13 g saturated), 51 mg cholesterol, 2,637 mg sodium, 9 g fiber.


CORNMEAL-CRUSTED CATFISH WITH TARTAR SAUCE

Catfish

3/4 cup flour

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup cornmeal

1 1/2 pounds catfish fillets

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Lemon wedges

For the Tartar Sauce:

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon chopped pickle

1 tablespoon drained and chopped caper berries or capers

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Combine the flour, cayenne and salt in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Put the eggs and cornmeal in two separate shallow bowls. Set out a baking sheet for the fish.

Holding the edge or tail of the fillet, dredge the catfish first in flour, making sure it's totally covered. Shake off any excess flour, then dredge in the egg and finally in the cornmeal.

Place the fish on the baking sheet.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry 2 of the fillets for 3 to 4 minutes per side, depending on the size of the

fillet. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining fillets adding more oil to the pan, if necessary.

As the catfish cooks, combine the ingredients for the tartar sauce.

Serve the catfish with the tartar sauce and lemon wedges. Serves 4.

PER SERVING: 640 calories, 32 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 44 g fat (8 g saturated), 180 mg cholesterol, 745 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

Note: Some catfish fillets are very large, so you may want to prepare 2 or 3 large fillets and divide them into 4 portions. Serve with boiled or roasted potatoes.


PORK CHOPS WITH SPINACH, WALNUTS & RAISINS

4 boneless 1-inch-thick pork chops (6 ounces each), fat trimmed

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, sliced

Pinch hot red pepper flakes

12 ounces washed baby spinach

1/3 cup golden raisins, or regular raisins

1/4 cup dry white wine (optional: ginger ale or white grape juice)

1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces, coarsely chopped, or toasted pine nuts

Season the pork chops on both sides with the 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. When it's very hot, add the chops and saute for about 3 to 4 minutes per side, until medium or medium-rare.

Transfer the chops to a plate, tent with foil and set aside.

Sauté the garlic and the pepper flakes in the skillet for a few minutes, then add the spinach, a little at a time, and cook until wilted, stirring constantly. When the spinach is just tender, stir in the raisins and wine. Heat through on high for a minute to reduce the liquid, then stir in the nuts and season with more salt and pepper.

Divide the spinach among heated serving plates and top with the chops. Serves 4.

PER SERVING: 480 calories, 39 g protein, 16 g carbohydrate, 28 g fat (8 g saturated), 99 mg cholesterol, 434 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service