The Improv

Every once in a while, home cooks are taken by surprise. Maybe it’s an unexpected drop-in or a study session that runs into the dinner hour. Or, as I recently experienced, a houseful of kids with their parents and siblings, all hungry for lunch.

A few Saturdays ago a dozen children, along with parents, siblings and friends, arrived early in the morning to be photographed for a children’s cookbook I’d just finished writing. With all the lively activity, it wasn’t until after 1 p.m. that I realized I had a house full of about 20 people who needed to be fed.

This exact problem may never happen to you, but if it does, you can save yourself with some basic staples and a food processor (which is like having two helpers). I made a cornmeal dish that took only five to six minutes to cook, and had fruit with vanilla sauce for dessert. The basics I used were cornmeal, canned tomatoes, cheese, frozen Cajun andouille sausages, onions, green onions, celery, bananas, pears, vanilla ice cream and bread.

I first put a big kettle of water on the stove so it would be ready in a hurry. Next I put the andouille sausages into a bowl of hot, hot water to thaw quickly, and put the quart of vanilla ice cream on the counter to begin to melt. (Many years ago the late James Beard told me that a very notable New York restaurant used the trick of melting creamy-type ice creams so they could be used as sauces on desserts.)


I ground the thawed sausages in the food processor while the water was coming to a boil. I chopped the whole canned tomatoes in the food processor, then the onions and cheese, and I quickly hand-chopped the green onions for garnish. For dessert, I just peeled and sliced the bananas and pears, put them into a bowl of lightly sugared water and let them chill until serving time.


This lunch probably wouldn’t rate many stars in a critical review, but hungry people are kind critics, and it looked and tasted better than I thought it would. All I know is that one of the mothers present came to me after lunch and asked whether I would share the cornmeal recipe. Here it is.



5 quarts cold water


4 cups yellow cornmeal

2 pounds andouille sausage or chorizo, ground into bits in food processor

4 to 5 cups assorted vegetables (such as zucchini, celery, onions, or tomatoes), cut into small pieces

1 (24-ounce) can tomatoes, chopped into pieces

1 1/2 cups mozzarella, cut into pieces



In large covered kettle bring 4 quarts water to boil with 1 tablespoon salt.

Put cornmeal into large mixing bowl and stir in remaining 1 quart of cold water, to help prevent lumping. When water begins to boil, add cornmeal slurry, sausage and vegetables. Stir constantly over high heat with long-handled spoon until cornmeal thickens, 5 minutes. Hold lid over top of kettle with spare hand to prevent being burned by spattering cornmeal. Do not cook more than 5 minutes. Cornmeal will thicken further as it cools.

Add cheese and immediately remove kettle from heat. Continue to stir several seconds. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 20 servings.

Each serving contains about:

287 calories; 483 mg sodium; 35 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 25 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 0.57 gram fiber.


8 bananas


5 Bartlett pears

Sugar, optional

1 quart rich vanilla ice cream, melted

2 cups chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds

Peel bananas and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Remove stems and cores from pears and cut remaining flesh into small chunks.

Combine bananas and pears in bowl. Add sugar to taste, if desired. Pour melted ice cream over fruits. Top with nuts.

Makes 20 servings.

Each serving contains about:

213 calories; 23 mg sodium; 18 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 26 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 1.36 grams fiber.