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GOOD COOKING

A Whole Vacation in a Single Meal

November 07, 1996|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On a recent visit to Europe, I sought out the bistros. That's where you find the tasty but not over-complicated food I have come to prefer. The following recipes are my attempt to re-create the dishes I liked best. They may differ from the restaurants' recipes, but they make a memorable meal.

Wine is essential to this sort of food. Serve a slightly chilled light red wine such as a Beaujolais or a chilled Sauvignon Blanc. For a further bistro touch, serve a cheese course between dinner and dessert, a few special cheeses with warm slices of crusty bread.

MUSHROOM AND HERB SALAD WITH FRICO

The mushroom and herb salad served at La Regalade in Paris seemed to me the ideal beginning for a lovely meal. It's great-looking and delicious, and only the tossing needs to be done at the last minute. Be careful to use genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, though--the fricos (called tuiles on La Regalade's menu) will be disappointing otherwise.

FRICO

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely cracked pepper

VINAIGRETTE

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons high quality balsamic vinegar

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots

Pinch salt

Freshly ground pepper

MUSHROOM SALAD

18 mushrooms, brushed clean, stems trimmed, sliced paper-thin

Salt, pepper

2 cups trimmed herb sprigs (basil, flat leaf parsley, tarragon, cilantro mixed with some watercress leaves)

FRICO

Put 1 1/2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan onto ungreased nonstick cookie sheet. Pat into 3-inch long oval so shreds are mostly in single layer. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper. Repeat with remaining cheese and pepper for total of 6 fricos, leaving 2 inches of space between them.

Bake at 350 degrees until all cheese is melted and golden around edges, about 3 1/2 minutes. Cool on wire rack 20 to 30 seconds. Use spatula to transfer frico to narrow rolling pin. Shape each frico around pin. Cool completely. Frico can be made 1 week ahead and kept at room temperature in airtight container.

VINAIGRETTE

Combine vinegar, olive oil, shallots, salt and pepper in small bowl. Mix until well combined. Vinaigrette can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Let come to room temperature before using.

MUSHROOM SALAD

Gently toss mushrooms with 1/4 cup Vinaigrette until well coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, divide mushrooms between each of 6 chilled salad plates. Top each with 1/3 cup mixed herbs. Sprinkle each herb cluster with 1/2 teaspoon Vinaigrette and freshly ground pepper. Top each with Frico. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

154 calories; 140 mg sodium; 4 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 4 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.24 gram fiber.

GRILLED FLATTENED HERBED CHICKEN

I had this very tender chicken at Omera, a restaurant high in the hills of Florence, Italy, with a magnificent view. The restaurant serves a half chicken for every diner, as in this recipe, but boned chicken breasts (with skin) would work as well and cook more quickly. Serve with small roasted potatoes and, if you wish, garlicky spinach.

3 (2 1/2-pound) chickens, split

1/2 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons dried crushed sage

2 teaspoons minced garlic (or more to taste)

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh sage sprigs, for garnish

Use kitchen shears to remove backbone from chicken. Cut out rib cage with sharp knife or shears, leaving only leg bone. Trim all visible fat. Be careful not to tear skin or chicken meat. Wash chicken, blot dry with paper towels. Tuck wing tip under.

Combine oil, thyme, sage, garlic, salt and pepper in small bowl. Rub mixture over entire surface of chickens. Refrigerate in tightly closed large plastic bag at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Let rest 1/2 hour at room temperature before cooking.

Remove chicken from bag and shake off excess oil mixture. Grill, skin-side down, on greased rack over medium heat until well-browned and sizzling, about 12 minutes. Turn, grill until browned and cooked through, about 15 more minutes. Remove from grill.

Cover chicken with heavy-duty foil; weight with heavy object such as large pot filled with canned foods to flatten. Let rest 10 minutes. Garnish with sage sprigs. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

784 calories; 989 mg sodium; 217 mg cholesterol; 62 grams fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 54 grams protein; 0.15 gram fiber.

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