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GOOD COOKING

It's a Tian Effort Celebrate the season with a vegetable feast.

September 17, 1997|ABBY MANDEL | Mandel's latest book is "Celebrating the Midwestern Table" (Doubleday & Co., 1996)

Start the meal with an appealing warm spinach and mushroom salad. Move then to eggplant sandwiches filled with a ricotta mixture and topped with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil. Full-flavored, they pair well with the garlicky yet mild harvest tian of vegetables and orzo. A tian is actually a pottery baking dish that, in France, has given its name to various combinations known as a tian of whatever happens to be in the dish.

The eggplant sandwiches and harvest tian take some work to put together, but they can be made ahead and served hot or warm, making them good options for a buffet.

Complete the meal with a loaf of bread, a selection of cheeses and a bowl of peaches.

WARM SPINACH AND MUSHROOM SALAD

15 mushrooms, stems trimmed and thinly sliced

14 cups young small spinach leaves, stems trimmed

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

3/4 cup olive oil

1 1/3 cups finely diced white onion

6 Kalamata olives, pitted, cut into slivers

The success of this salad depends on young tender spinach leaves with stems trimmed.

Put mushrooms and spinach in large bowl or pot, cover with damp paper towel and chill until ready to use.

Combine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, stirring until salt dissolves. Heat olive oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, add onion and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Add vinegar mixture and bring to simmer.

Pour hot dressing over mushrooms and spinach and toss several times to coat well. Adjust seasoning. Divide evenly among serving plates. Garnish with olive slivers. Serve immediately.

6 servings. Each serving:

315 calories; 598 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 29 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 1.49 grams fiber.

HARVEST TIAN WITH VEGETABLES AND ORZO

Salt

Water

1/2 pound orzo

2 cups diced yellow summer squash

2 cups diced zucchini

2 cups thinly sliced small leeks

Olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Freshly ground pepper

Red pepper flakes

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Bring large pot salted water to boil. Add orzo and cook according to package instructions. Just before it reaches al dente stage, add squash, zucchini and leeks. Continue cooking just until boiling resumes, about 1 minute.

Drain orzo and vegetables in colander, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Return orzo and vegetables to pot and stir in reserved liquid.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in small pan. When very warm, stir in garlic and cook until fragrant but not brown, about 1 minute. Add garlic to orzo-vegetable mixture. Stir in cheese, parsley, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Taste and adjust seasonings; mixture should be well-seasoned.

Transfer to shallow 10-cup baking dish or pottery casserole that has been brushed with olive oil. Spread evenly. (Note: Recipe can be made 1 day ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated. Let come to room temperature before baking.)

Combine bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt in small dish. Sprinkle over casserole.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees until crumbs are browned, about 45 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings:

197 calories; 258 mg sodium; 3 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 31 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0.79 gram fiber.

BAKED EGGPLANT SANDWICHES

1 1/2 cups 1/3-inch diced tomatoes

1 1/2 cups pasta sauce

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Red pepper flakes

2 large firm eggplants

Olive oil spray

1 (15-ounce) container part-skim ricotta

1 egg

3 tablespoons grated Romano cheese

3 tablespoons minced basil

1 tablespoon flour

1 1/4 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Basil leaves

Combine tomatoes, pasta sauce and salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Mixture should be well-seasoned. Set aside.

Cut eggplants crosswise into 16 (1/2-inch) slices. Season with salt to taste. Place slices in colander and weigh down with heavy object. Let drain in sink 30 minutes. Rinse under cold water and blot dry with paper towels.

Arrange eggplant slices on 2 baking sheets sprayed with olive oil spray. Spray slices with olive oil spray and season with salt and pepper to taste. Broil until medium brown, about 3 minutes. Turn with tongs. Spray second side with olive oil spray and season to taste with salt and pepper. Broil until medium brown, 3 minutes more. Set slices aside to cool.

Combine ricotta, egg, Romano cheese, minced basil and flour in bowl. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.

Divide ricotta mixture among 8 eggplant slices and spread evenly. Top with remaining eggplant slices and use hand to press sandwiches together.

Spread 1 3/4 cups tomato sauce in greased shallow non-aluminum baking dish. Arrange sandwiches over sauce in single layer. Spoon remaining tomato mixture on each sandwich, dividing evenly. (Note: Sandwiches can be made to this point a day ahead and refrigerated. Let come to room temperature before baking.)

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees 40 minutes. Sprinkle each sandwich with mozzarella and bake until cheese is well melted, about 15 minutes. Transfer to warm platter and garnish with basil leaves. Serve hot or warm.

6 servings. Each serving:

254 calories; 624 mg sodium; 72 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 18 grams protein; 0.65 gram fiber.

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