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GOOD COOKING

I'll Bring the Veggies

December 22, 1996|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Who's going to bring the vegetables? That's often a critical question when planning family get-togethers and holiday celebrations that operate on the potluck principle.

Maybe it's a lack of vegetable recipes that adapt to a crowd and easily reheat at serving time (and not necessarily in the oven, which already might be filled to capacity). And the reheatable vegetable dishes that first come to mind are usually laden with cream, something most of us don't need more of during this heavy-eating time.

At my house, I always serve two cooked vegetables as well as a dish of crudites--celery, carrots, red pepper strips, fennel wedges, radishes. These options seem to suit all types of vegetable palates.

Consider the following vegetable recipes that can be done ahead of time; each serves eight, in the context of a large meal. They are versatile, can be easily multiplied to serve more and work nicely together as a threesome. All reheat in a microwave or regular oven.

For spinach lovers, I have two delicious not-so-rich creamed spinach recipes from my prior columns that I will gladly send you. Just send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Spinach Recipes, Los Ageles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

MEDITERRANEAN ZUCCHINI GRATIN WITH ONIONS, TOMATO AND PEPPERS

Think of this Mediterranean gratin as a close relation to ratatouille without the eggplant. Aside from its fresh taste, the great attraction of the casserole is its vivid colors.

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 zucchini, diced (about 4 cups)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 small onions, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 to 3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 large tomato, seeded and diced, about 2/3 cup

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat. When very hot, add zucchini and salt. Cook, uncovered, until almost tender, about 2 minutes, stirring often. Set aside.

In same skillet, heat remaining oil over medium heat. Add onions, red and green peppers and garlic. Cook, uncovered, until mixture is very soft but not brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir often. Add water if mixture is too dry.

Add vinegar, tomato, reserved zucchini and pepper to taste. Stir well. Remove from heat. Adjust seasoning.

(Can be made 1 day ahead, chilled and refrigerated, covered airtight. Let come to room temperature before using and transfer to shallow 6-cup capacity microwaveable or oven-proof dish. Reheat in microwave oven on high power [100%] until hot, about 6 minutes or, uncovered, in 400-degree oven for 30 minutes.)

Stir in basil and cheese just before serving. Serve hot.

Makes 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

96 calories; 228 mg sodium; 3 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 7 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.83 gram fiber.

ROASTED WHOLE CAULIFLOWER WITH GARLIC AND MUSTARD SEEDS

The whole cauliflower makes a spectacular presentation and serves up nicely in wedges.

1 large cauliflower, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Fresh cracked black pepper

Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt

Kale leaves

1 tablespoon minced parsley or snipped chives

8 lemon wedges

Trim cauliflower leaves. Turn head over and carefully cut away about 1 1/2 inches of woody stem, making sure florets stay intact. Rinse cauliflower; blot dry with paper towels. Place cauliflower in center of square sheet of foil on baking sheet.

Combine oil and garlic. Gently warm on stove top or in microwave oven until fragrant, but garlic should not brown. Strain oil through fine sieve, pressing on garlic to get all oil. Discard garlic. Stir mustard seeds and cracked pepper to taste in oil.

Spoon warm oil mixture as evenly as possible over cauliflower. Sprinkle evenly with salt to taste. Crimp foil to hug base of cauliflower.

Bake at 375 degrees, uncovered, until just tender (test center core with tip of sharp paring knife), about 1 1/2 hours.

(Can be made 1 day ahead, cooled and refrigerated, wrapped airtight. Let come to room temperature before using. Place in microwaveable dish. Reheat in microwave oven on high power [100%] until hot, 4 to 6 minutes.)

To serve, place head in center of round platter layered with kale leaves. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot in pie-shaped wedges, garnished with lemon wedges.

Makes 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

75 calories; 165 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 6 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 1.01 grams fiber.

MASHED CARROTS WITH CELERY ROOT AND CUMIN

This is a sensational combination with any type of leftovers and is easily transformed into a soup with a little vegetable broth.

1 tablespoon oil

2 small onions, coarsely chopped

4 small celery roots, peeled, cut into chunks

10 large carrots, peeled, cut into chunks (about 3 pounds)

1 3/4 teaspoons ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 to 2 cups water

2 tablespoons butter

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