With a few minutes' work upfront, you can have this hot, substantial, aromatic supper on the table within a half-hour if you wish. And while the gumbo is simmering, you'll have time to put the kids to bed, read the mail, drink a beer or do all three. The longer it cooks, the better it is.

OYSTER GUMBO (2 hearty servings) 2 pieces of bacon, cut in pieces 1 medium onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 1 hot pepper, chopped (substitute few dashes hot pepper sauce) 28-ounce can tomatoes 1/2 to 1 cup fresh or frozen okra, chopped Bay leaf 1/4 teaspoon thyme 1 pint oysters Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the bacon until enough fat is rendered to grease the pot, then add the onion and garlic and pepper. I usually chop up a jalapeno or serrano pepper, depending on what is in the refrigerator. How far you go on that score depends on your tolerance for hot food. Add the tomatoes, and when the gumbo comes to a boil add the okra, the spices and the oysters.

The gumbo would probably be edible in 15 minutes, but 30 minutes is better. If you can't serve it right away, just add a little water as needed.

If you have leftover ham, use that instead of bacon but add a little bacon grease in which to cook the onion, garlic and pepper.

Gumbo goes best with cornbread and beer. If you make cornbread (about another 5 minutes' preparation time) after you put the gumbo on, both will be ready to serve at the same time.