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GOOD COOKING

The End of Summer, Fresh Off the Vine

September 26, 1996|ABBY MANDEL

The benefits of early fall are truly evident in tomatoes ripened on the vine. Bright red, tight-skinned yet fully ripe and fragrant, they know no equal.

This is the time to enjoy tomatoes. Just pluck them from the vine while they're still warm from the sun and eat them out of hand. Or lightly drizzle tomato slices with fruity olive oil, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar, fresh basil leaves and coarsely cracked black pepper. Or make a watercress and tomato sandwich on rustic bread, lightly spread with mayonnaise and topped off with a few cilantro leaves and thinly sliced sweet onion.

For these simple combinations and salads, remember that tomatoes have the best flavor at room temperature, while the greens in salads should always be chilled. If the tomatoes have been refrigerated, let them rest on the counter until they have lost their chill.

SLICED TOMATOES WITH CELERY SALSA

3 tablespoons minced parsley

2/3 cup thinly sliced small green onions

2/3 cup finely diced celery

3 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Few drops hot sauce

Freshly ground pepper

4 to 5 tomatoes, sliced 1/2 inch thick

Combine parsley, onions, celery, oil, brown sugar, water, vinegar, celery seeds, salt, dried oregano, hot sauce and pepper to taste in small bowl. Can be made a day ahead to this point and refrigerated. Before using, let come to room temperature.

Arrange sliced tomatoes on serving platter. Top with vegetable mixture using slotted spoon. Serve immediately or within 2 hours.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Each of 6 servings contains about:

92 calories; 224 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 7 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.84 gram fiber.

CHOPPED BACON, LETTUCE AND TOMATO SALAD

4 thin slices bacon

1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon light mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 tomato, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch dice, about 1 cup

1/3 cup finely diced sweet onion

1/2 small head iceberg lettuce, cut into 3/4-inch dice, about 2 cups

Cook bacon over low heat, discarding fat, until crisp. Blot dry with paper towel and crumble. You should have about 1/4 cup.

Combine rice vinegar, cider vinegar, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste in small dish.

In large bowl, combine tomato and onion and toss with dressing. Let rest 5 minutes. Add lettuce and bacon. Toss. Adjust seasoning. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

Each serving contains about:

257 calories; 503 mg sodium; 28 mg cholesterol; 23 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 1.30 grams fiber.

SUMMER MACARONI SALAD WITH CRISP GARLIC BREAD CRUMBS

BREAD CRUMBS

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small clove garlic, minced, about 1/2 teaspoon

1/2 cup fresh white or whole-wheat bread crumbs

Salt

Heat oil in small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add garlic and crumbs. Cook until bread is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning. Add pinch salt. Stir well. Cool.

VINAIGRETTE

10 large basil leaves, minced, about 1 tablespoon

2 large cloves garlic, minced, about 1/2 tablespoon

6 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Whisk together basil, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

SALAD

1/2 pound macaroni or other short tube pasta

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1 large red bell pepper

6 tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice, about 4 cups

1 1/2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves

Cook macaroni in large pot of rapidly boiling lightly salted water. When tender, drain and rinse with cold water. Toss with olive oil and chill.

Roast pepper on grill, under broiler or over burner until skin blackens. Turn to char entire surface. Cool in sealed plastic bag. Peel, remove seeds and cut in 1/2-inch dice. You should have about 3/4 cup.

Combine tomatoes, pepper and macaroni in bowl with vinaigrette. Gently toss until combined.

Salad can be made ahead to this point. Refrigerate macaroni salad, covered airtight. Store cooled crumbs at room temperature, wrapped airtight. If chilled, let salad come to room temperature before serving.

To serve, mix salad well; adjust seasoning. Serve salad in a shallow bowl or divide it among 4 serving plates. Garnish with basil. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs on each serving.

Makes 4 main-course servings.

Each serving contains about:

486 calories; 699 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 25 grams fat; 58 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams protein; 1.53 grams fiber.

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