Marion Morash has a fine eye for entertaining with food. She has a sense of theater that gives her an air of cool calmness that's neither overbearing nor dramatic, but comforting and easy.
''A welcoming gesture of the holiday season should be a warming bowl of something hearty, simple, and inexpensive to make, but generous in quantity,'' she said when I recently visited her home kitchen in Lexington, Mass.
Marion cooks on the PBS television show ''The Victory Garden,'' and she has one of the very best cookbooks for vegetables, ''The Victory Garden Cookbook'' (Knopf).
During the summer she is chef at the Straight Wharf Restaurant on Nantucket Island, and she has just finished a winter session as executive chef for Julia Child's new PBS series, ''Dinner With Julia.''
Deftly arranging cabbages, leeks, carrots, and other familiar fresh garden vegetables into a cornucopia pile, she then added bowls, spoons, napkins, and wonderful breads in buffet style on the huge butcher-block island under the rack hanging with handsome French copper kettles.
''Of course you can make a big production out of holiday entertaining,'' she said. ''I like things to be especially nice, ''but I like a natural, realistic approach.
''I'm not for putting radishes on the hood of the stove and lilies in the teakettle, or rhododendrons in the garbage can. But I have seen people do it and I think it's rather bizarre. Perhaps it makes a nice effect for photographs, but it's just not my style.
''I think when people drop in to visit or to bring gifts at holiday time, or see our daughters - that's when it's nice to have a big pot of chowder or stew or chili ready to heat and serve with thick, crusty bread and salad greens.
''Mushroom and scallion soup could be served in colorful mugs with crackers, and there are interesting combinations like sweet potato-tomato soup, or eggplant and fish. There are soups made with cauliflower, squash, kale, pumpkin, lentils, beans and many other vegetables, meat bones, and sausages.''
Here is her basic recipe for vegetable soup and some comments on soupmaking from ''The Victory Garden Cookbook'':
''A mixed vegetable soup is not only one of the simplest recipes to make. It is also one of the most satisfying.
''Vary the ingredients, depending on what is freshest, and serve the soup plain or with an array of embellishments such as meats, beans, rice, or cheese.
''Techniques for cooking vegetable soups are different with every cook. You can 'sweat' the vegetables in oil or butter with a cover, then add liquid. Or cook them directly in liquid and add more tender or leafy vegetables at the end of cooking.
''Some people like to cook vegetables for an hour or more to meld the flavors. I personally like to cook vegetable soup until the vegetables are tender but still retain some texture.
''Even so, softer vegetables you get in leftover soup will taste good.
''Although some cooks use only 'broth,' I prefer a good homemade stock, usually beef broth, or more often a beef-and-chicken-broth combination.
''I have vegetarian friends who always make their vegetable soup with a vegetable-flavored broth.
''Although I wilt the onions or leeks in butter, that step can be omitted, simply adding them to the broth. Length of cooking time depends largely on size and cut of the vegetable.''
Marion's Basic Vegetable Soup 4 ounces butter 2 cups chopped leeks, white part, or onions or both, mixed 1 teaspoon minced garlic 2 cups peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes 1 cup finely sliced carrots 1 cup finely sliced celery 1 cup sliced turnips 8 cups half chicken, half beef broth 1 cup green beans in 1/2-inch pieces 1 1/2 cups diced zucchini or yellow squash 1 1/2 cups finely julienned Chinese cabbage 1/4 cup small pasta such as tubettini 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh herbs such as oregano, basil, or parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Grated cheese, optional
Heat butter and cook leeks until wilted, 5 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, and cook 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, carrots, celery, turnips, and broth. Bring broth to boil, reduce heat, and cook gently 5 to 8 minutes.
Add beans, squash, cabbage, and pasta. Cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in herbs and season with salt and pepper. Serve with cheese if desired. Makes 3 quarts.
Substitute rice or barley for pasta, but add to broth before vegetables in order to cook until tender.
Make a minestrone by adding chick peas, cannellini beans, or fresh shell beans.
Substitute like mad. Use sliced or diced potatoes or parsnips instead of turnips. Use kale or spinach instead of cabbage. Try kohlrabi for squash. Add cooked meats, poultry, or shellfish.