Sunday supper seems to have taken the direction of Chinese carryout or a tub of takeout chicken. It has become a commercial celebration rather than a warm wrap-up with family or friends to an enjoyable weekend. For this there is no excuse.

Fast-food establishments may have proliferated, but so has the commercial availability of good peasant breads, fresh and unusual salad greens and fine seasonal fruit -- all items that can easily be the basis of a casual, happy style of entertaining.

It's both practical and appealing to make supper food revolve around one main dish that looks appetizing when presented on one big earthenware platter or from a large, wide, colorful soup tureen. Meal-in-a-dish recipes make organizing dinner quite manageable. Add unusual, big soup bowls for serving shellfish stews, ragouts and the like.

A chilly autumn night is just the right time to present a scrumptious pot of vegetable soup that has been heartily expanded with a couple pounds of sausage. White Bean and Cabbage Soup With Kielbasa is just such a soup-like stew or stew-like soup.

I happen to love the taste that lightly grilled sausage gives to the soup, so I take the extra time to sizzle it over the hot coals of a barbecue. A crisp green salad with a vinaigrette dressing should follow the soup for some crunch.

The welcoming spicy flavors of Pork in Chili Sauce makes this dish ideal to serve in vibrantly colored, deep bowls. The pork is in big chunks, not coarsely ground. Use a pure chili powder made from ground hot chilies alone (or if you like your chili milder, use half mild powder and half hot); pure chili powder is available at some supermarkets and most specialty food stores. Simmering the pork cubes and spices in light beer picks up the spices and evens out the taste better than broth would (broth would be overpowered).

The Smoked Ham, Crab and Shrimp Bake is a fortifying main course underscored with rice. Baked rice dishes are appealing because they most easily become a foundation for variations using smoked ham, any kind of seafood, ham and browned chicken drumettes, browned sausages and chicken wings or thighs. This is a fairly substantial mingling of ingredients, so offer a brisk green salad and plenty of crusty bread to go along. For dessert, serve something lemony, such as a lemon sponge pudding -- the tang in citrus is refreshing after such a hearty main course.

If you must have a chicken in your pot on Sunday night, let it be the Three Pepper Chicken, a tantalizing, paprika-touched stew with tomato. It's easy enough to make a big pot of this stew on Sunday morning, or earlier in the weekend, to be reheated later (the flavor improves on standing). This stew needs to be served with a big, heavily crusted chewy country bread that you simply tear apart for serving and mopping up the good sauce.

Shellfish and garlic work well together, and the Shellfish Ragout With Garlic is nothing more than garlic and onions saute'ed in olive oil and simmered with parsley and garlic as the base for cooking mussels, clams, shrimp and scallops. The dish calls for a gathering of good friends, all of whom relish digging into shells and licking them clean of sauce. Any loaf of crusty bread, broken into jagged pieces, is a must for dipping into the garlicky sauce.

The following are meant to turn Sunday evening into cozy warmhearted suppers: WHITE BEAN AND CABBAGE SOUP WITH KIELBASA (10 servings)

My favorite way to prepare the sausages for this soup is to grill them lightly over hot charcoal; in any case, I'm in favor of browning them nicely in a hot oven or under a broiler -- this seems to give the soup a characterful flavor.

1 1/2 cups great northern white beans


5 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

4 ribs celery heart, diced

3 carrots, diced

1 small turnip, diced

2 small boiling potatoes, diced

2 pounds savoy cabbage, trimmed and cut into long shreds

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1/2 teaspoon mustard seed

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

2 cups canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juice

1 small imported bay leaf

10 cups good chicken or beef broth

Freshly ground black pepper

3 pounds kielbasa sausage, browned under the broiler, in a very hot oven, or over hot coals, and cut into 2-inch nuggets

Salt to taste

1/3 cup minced parsley leaves for finishing the dish

Place the beans in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover by 4 inches. Let stand overnight at room temperature to soak. The next day, drain the beans, refresh in cold water and drain again; set aside.

Place the olive oil in a large soup kettle and heat over a moderate flame. Stir in the onions, cook for 2 minutes; stir in the celery, cook for 2 minutes; stir in the carrots, cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the turnip, cook for 1 minute; stir in the potatoes, cook for 1 minute. Stir in the shredded cabbage, cook for 2 minutes, then cover the pot and cook the vegetables for 5 minutes over low heat, or until the cabbage just begins to wilt down.

Uncover the pot, add the caraway and mustard seeds, thyme, rosemary, tomatoes, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and drained white beans, and return to a simmer. Season with freshly ground pepper to taste. Cover and simmer the soup for about 3 hours, stirring every half hour, or until the beans are tender. Discard the bay leaf.

The soup may be prepared up to 4 days in advance. Cool to room temperature, then store in a covered container in the refrigerator. Heat the soup, partially covered, by adding the sausage pieces at the beginning while the soup is starting to warm. Simmer 15 minutes or until the sausages are hot throughout. If you are cooking the soup all at once, add the sausages and simmer the soup uncovered for 15 minutes. Salt the soup to taste.

Serve from very deep bowls, the tops sprinkled with chopped parsley. Pass a bowl of freshly grated parmesan cheese to stir into the soup, if you like. PORK IN CHILI SAUCE (8 servings)

This meaty, spicy "stew" of pork shoulder is wonderful to have on hand (it keeps for 5 days in the refrigerator or up to 2 months in the freezer); the seasonings make you want to serve it with a cooling sour cream or yogurt-based relish, an onion salad, and a mound of warm corn muffins.

6 tablespoons lard

4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-to 2-inch cubes

2 onions, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 cup ground hot chili powder

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 tablespoon cumin

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cumin seed, crushed in a mortar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups tomato sauce, preferably homemade

2 12-ounce cans light beer

In a dutch oven or similar heavy casserole, heat the lard until smoking hot. In the meantime, pat dry the cubes of pork on paper towels. A batch at a time, brown the pork cubes in the hot fat. Remove them to a side dish.

When all the pork has been browned, reduce the heat to low, stir in the chopped onion and cook until the onion turns a light golden color. Stir in the garlic; stir-cook for 1 minute. Stir in the oregano, chili powder, paprika, cumin, salt, cumin seed, and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Pour in the tomato sauce. Stir in the browned pork cubes and pour on the beer. Stir, and bring to a rapid simmer.

Cover and cook the pork over low heat for about 2 hours, or until very tender. Simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes longer, or until the liquid has condensed lightly.

Serve this spicy dish with cooling accompaniments, in deep warmed bowls.

Variation: Just before serving, 1/2 pound monterey jack cheese, shredded, may be folded into the pork. This will make the dish creamier. SMOKED HAM, CRAB AND SHRIMP BAKE (8 servings)

This big pot of ham, crab meat, and shrimp baked with rice is the ultimate in soothing comfort food; serve it with a big basket of very crusty bread and a block of good, sweet salted butter.

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 onions, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 ribs celery heart, chopped

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley leaves

1 1/4 cups long grain converted rice

1/4 cup good quality tomato paste

1 1/2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, with their juice, chopped

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, cored, and cut into 1-inch squares

1 green bell pepper, stemmed, cored, and cut into 1-inch squares

2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade

1 pound smoked ham, exterior rind and skin removed as necessary, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 pound lump crab meat, picked over to remove any pieces of shell

3/4 pound raw shrimp, peeled with the tails left on and deveined

In a large heavy casserole with a capacity of about 6 to 8 quarts (preferably made of enameled cast iron), or a dutch oven of similar size, heat the oil and butter over a low flame until the butter melts. Stir in the onions, garlic, and celery and cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme and 1/4 cup parsley. Raise the heat to moderate and stir in the rice; cook the rice for 3 minutes or until the grains turn milky-colored. Stir in the tomato paste, plum tomatoes, peppers, hot pepper sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a simmer again.

Place the casserole, covered, on the middle level rack of a 350-degree oven and bake for 15 minutes undisturbed. Uncover, add the ham, crab and shrimp, stir lightly; cover and return to the oven for an additional 7 to 10 minutes or until the shrimp is cooked and the ham and crab are very hot. Taste for additional salt and pepper, adding them as necessary.

Serve, piping hot, from a bowl or deep platter. Dust the top with remaining chopped parsley leaves.

Variation: A spicier variation of the "bake" is to add the following along with the thyme and parsley: 1 teaspoon celery seed, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon hot paprika, 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, 1/2 teaspoon coriander. THREE PEPPER CHICKEN (6 to 8 servings)

Golden, red, and green pepper strips wind through a tomato-enriched sauce loaded with fresh herbs.

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup unsalted butter

2 3-pound chickens, each cut up into 8 serving pieces

1 cup all-purpose flour, approximately, spread out on a large plate

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3/4 cup dry white wine

2 onions, sliced

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1/3 cup minced parsley leaves

1/3 cup shredded basil leaves

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 small imported bay leaf

4 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, with their juice, chopped

1 cup chicken broth

4 tablespoons tomato paste


3 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, cored and cut into strips

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, cored, and cut into strips

2 green bell peppers, stemmed, cored and cut into strips

Heat the vegetable oil and 3 tablespoons butter in a large dutch oven. Pat dry the pieces of chicken on paper towels. Dust the chicken pieces in flour lightly a few at a time, and brown them on both sides in the hot butter/oil. Remove the chicken pieces to a plate as they are browned. Season them with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour out all of the fat from the casserole and pour in the white wine. Bring the wine to a boil, scraping any clinging bits on the bottom of the casserole. Let the wine bubble away until it has been reduced by half. Pour the wine into a small bowl and set aside.

Add remaining 5 tablespoons butter to the pot, set over low heat, and stir in the onions and garlic. Cook slowly until the onions soften, about 5 minutes, stirring now and again. Stir in the thyme, rosemary, parsley, basil, paprika, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the plum tomatoes, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until they are slightly thickened. Pour in the white wine and chicken broth: stir in tomato paste. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil; boil 4 minutes.

While the liquid is boiling, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over moderate heat. Add the pepper strips and stir-fry them for 1 minute. Remove to a side dish.

Add the chicken parts to the tomato base and bring the contents of the pan to a simmer. Cover the casserole and cook on the middle level rack of a 375-degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the liquid has thickened up a bit. Add the peppers and cook 5 minutes longer.

If the liquid does not look condensed enough, remove the chicken pieces to a warm oven while you boil down the pan sauce to give it more body.

Serve the chicken from a warmed earthenware platter with steamed rice or buttered noodles. SHELLFISH RAGOUT WITH GARLIC (6 servings)

Plenty of chopped garlic seasons the shellfish in this fast-to-put-together dish. The "sauce" is made up of garlic, chopped onions, parsley, and white wine, and although it is not tinged with tomato, it still tastes robust.

1/2 cup olive oil

3 onions, finely chopped

2 dozen large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

2 cups dry white wine

3 dozen small mussels, well scrubbed

3 dozen littleneck clams, well scrubbed

1 pound shrimp, peeled with the tails left on, and deveined

1 pound bay scallops

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot, add the onions, and cook over moderately low heat until the onions turn a pale golden color. Stir in the garlic and parsley; cook over low heat for 3 minutes. Pour in the white wine, bring to a boil, and boil until the wine has reduced by half. The recipe may be prepared up to 6 hours ahead to this point. Set aside at room temperature.

To complete the ragout, bring the liquid to a rapid boil. Add the mussels and clams, hinge side down, cover and cook over high heat for 6 minutes. Add the shrimp and scallops and continue cooking until the mussels and clams are fully opened and the shrimp and scallops just turn opaque, another 5 minutes. Season the ragout with salt and pepper.

Stir everything together well, taking care not to damage the scallops, and ladle into deep warmed bowls. Serve the ragout with a chewy peasant bread.

Variation: The ragout may be served over freshly cooked linguine.