Second Helpings

Soupy Sales: There isn't much of a soup season in the Valley of the Perpetual Sun--maybe a three-month window lasting from about Thanksgiving to the beginning of spring training. For soup lovers like me, though, 'tis the season to be jolly. A steaming bowl of soup can really take the edge off a cool winter evening, without inflicting significant wallet damage, either. Here are five of my favorite meals-in-a-bowl.

* Posole: I don't know why more Valley restaurants don't prepare this wonderful dish, one of the glories of Mexican cuisine. I'm particularly partial to the version served at Pan y Mas (3111 East Greenway Road). It starts with a zesty red chile broth that gets little beads of sweat forming on your forehead. Then it's thickened with hominy and big chunks of pork so tender they fall apart at the touch of a spoon.

* Hot and Sour Soup: Nobody does this Chinese-restaurant staple like the kitchen at China Village (12005 North 32nd Street). It's a vigorous, snout-clearing broth, hot and lip-smackingly sour, stocked with pork, shrimp, tofu and green onions. For several minutes after you eat it, your sense of smell will be as acute as your dog's.

* Nabeyaki: Forget about pills. For relief of a cold, the nabeyaki noodle soup at Hiro Sushi (9393 North 90th Street in Scottsdale) is just what the doctor ordered. It's a steaming, oversize bowl filled with chicken, shrimp, vegetable tempura, fish cake, hard-boiled egg, mushrooms and noodles. It's the kind of soup your mother might make, if she hailed from Japan.

* Albondigas: Who says meatballs have to come with spaghetti? This meatball soup is a south-of-the-border specialty, and the cook at El Conquistador (15420 North 32nd Street) has perfected the recipe. It's formidably stocked with big meatballs and man-size hunks of potato, carrot and squash. They're all swimming in a riveting, chipotle-laced broth that gets your tongue tingling with delight.

* Catfish and Vegetables: Vietnamese soups are incredibly fragrant. The Sterno-fired sweet-and-sour soup at Little Saigon (1588 West Montebello, Christown Mall) demonstrates exactly what I mean. It's heaped with fish (watch out for bones), veggies and pineapple, all swimming in a pungent broth that will grab you by the lapels.

Book Notes: Gianfranco Motti, chef/proprietor at Un Bacio (4400 North Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale), one of this town's better Italian restaurants, has come out with a new cookbook. Not surprisingly, it's called Un Bacio, and it features about 75 northern Italian recipes.

I should know better than to read the details of preparing gnocchi di semolino (semolina wedges coated with butter and Parmigiano), costoletta alla Valdostana (butterflied veal chop dipped in egg batter and breadcrumbs, cooked in butter and stuffed with fontina cheese) and zabaglione (a Marsala-wine-soaked custard) on an empty stomach. The dishes don't make me want to spend the time in the kitchen to prepare them. They make me want to go to Un Bacio and eat them.

The book is available at the restaurant. The cost is $25.


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