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GOOD COOKING

Down-Home (Vegetarian) Food From Tuscany

February 07, 2001|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Recently I re-created a meal I'd enjoyed at a country restaurant in the Tuscan hills. The flavors were typical of that region, vibrant and straightforward. My guests, all real meat-lovers, had no idea they were eating vegetarian.

The pasta with porcini mushrooms is a perfect cold-weather dish and reheats well, so it can be done ahead. The antipasto should be made at least a day ahead for the ingredients to develop their full flavor.

A green salad sprinkled with Gorgonzola cheese would make a nice transition to the dessert, an orange almond cake that is showered with powdered sugar just before serving, rather than frosted. As for the wine, Chianti goes well with this entire menu.

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Mandel is a cookbook author.

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Roasted Pepper Antipasti With Onions, Golden Raisins and Capers

Active Work Time: 20 minutes - Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 15 minutes plus 8 hours chilling - Vegetarian

I like to serve this alone, but cheese, olives and sausages can be added to make an array on a serving board.

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1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large red onion, cut lengthwise into strips

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 to 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 cup golden raisins

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons small capers, drained

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Dash red pepper flakes

Crusty bread for serving

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* To roast the peppers, stand them on a cutting board and cut the sides off in flat slabs. Arrange the slabs, skin side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil them about 6 inches from the heat until the skin is blackened, about 10 minutes. Wrap the peppers in foil until cool. Slip off the skins and cut the peppers crosswise into strips.

* Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, salt and peppers. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes.

* Add the garlic and 1 cup of vegetable broth and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring often and adding more broth as needed to keep the mixture moist but without making it soupy. Cook until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes.

* Add the raisins, sugar, capers, vinegar and a dash of red pepper flakes. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring, until the mixture begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Cool and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.

* To serve, let the mixture come to room temperature; stir well and taste and adjust the seasoning, including sugar and vinegar. Spoon onto the crusty bread to serve.

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4 servings. Each serving: 206 calories; 572 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 28 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 2.08 grams fiber.

Linguine With Mushrooms, Garlic and Lemon

Active Work Time: 15 minutes - Total Preparation Time: 30 minutes - Vegetarian

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1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms

2 cups hot water

2 tablespoons olive oil

2/3 cup minced shallots

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Freshly ground pepper

3/4 pound fine linguine

4 lemon wedges, for serving

Freshly grated Pecorino cheese, for serving

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* Place the mushrooms in a bowl, cover them with hot water and let them soak for 20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and pour the liquid through a strainer lined with a triple thickness of paper towels to remove any grit, pressing down on the mushrooms. Set the liquid (you should have about 1 cup) aside. Quickly rinse the mushrooms in an unlined sieve to remove any remaining grit and set them aside.

* Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring often to keep from scorching, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the reserved mushrooms and liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes.

* Add the cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the mixture thickens into a sauce, about 2 minutes. (The recipe can be made to this point a few hours ahead and kept in the refrigerator, tightly covered.)

* Cook the linguine in salted water according to the package directions. Meanwhile, heat the sauce over low heat. When the pasta is cooked, reserve 1 cup of the liquid, then drain the pasta. Stir the pasta into the sauce, turn the heat to high and add the reserved pasta liquid as needed if the pasta is too dry. Taste and adjust the seasoning, including lemon zest and lemon juice. Serve the pasta hot, garnished with lemon wedges; pass the cheese separately.

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4 servings. Each serving: 276 calories; 454 mg sodium; 27 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 31 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.39 gram fiber.

Orange Almond Cake

Active Work Time: 20 minutes - Total Preparation Time: 1 hour

This is good served with fresh berries in season.

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5 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

2 cups blanched sliced, julienned or whole almonds

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 tablespoon baking powder

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