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Night music, a light picnic

Orchestrate an elegant Hollywood Bowl experience in three easy courses.

July 12, 2006|Susan LaTempa and Donna Deane | Times Staff Writers

ANY meal can be the ideal Hollywood Bowl meal. It's just that some suppers are more ideal for certain evenings than others. A tuna sandwich and a beer work for a night when you've made a last-minute decision to grab some cheap seats up in the bleachers. A box dinner from your favorite restaurant is a convenient choice when you've made a park-and-ride bus reservation.

But a wonderfully cool, easily packed, tres civilized three-course meal is just the ticket when you're hosting a Bowl evening. Conjure up a menu for four with the kind of pacing the orchestra director aims for in an evening's classical program: Begin with an attention-getting flourish, move on to something substantial but suited for the season and setting as the main event, and finish impressively (fireworks aren't necessary).

This is not the occasion for a potluck -- you'll end up with too many bags to carry up the hill and too many plates to fit onto either your portion of a shared picnic table or onto one of the little tables supplied for box seats. But hosting the party doesn't mean hassling -- it's a matter of making smart choices and planning.

Although the air cools after dark, it's almost always sultry during dining hour at the Bowl. So plan a cold meal. With today's insulated carriers and picnic baskets, it's easy to pack the dishes and keep them chilled.

A menu of cold zucchini soup to start, duck terrine with a tomato and frisee salad for a main course, and a selection of exotic, homemade date sweetmeats for dessert is more substantial than it might sound, but not so heavy as to induce preconcert torpor. It's a quietly elegant meal that can be enjoyed course by course in the head-swiveling environment of this enormous outdoor amphitheater.

Everyone arrives early, the better to score a picnic table or avoid traffic. So in the giddy, party atmosphere of the preconcert hours, you'll want a first course that is easy to serve and provides an immediate sense of celebration. Transport the chilled puree soup, which is wonderfully garden-y and herbal, in a stylish insulated carafe; pour individual servings at the table and add a crisp pinch of chopped basil to each. Serve it with a bubbly, dry Prosecco.

As the sun sinks and the Bowl's thousands of seats fall into shadow, while stagehands wheel out the grand piano or adjust the conductor's platform, serve the main course. Though compact and easy to pack, duck terrine is a rich and satisfying entree -- and it's a delightfully unexpected choice.

A sophisticated loaf of duck, Serrano ham, mushrooms and Swiss chard, the terrine takes some advance preparation; it should be made the day before and chilled overnight.

A single slice will probably suffice for each guest, served with a salad of frisee and tomatoes (no soggy greens; the frisee holds its crunch through packing) with a mustardy vinaigrette that pairs well with the duck.

You'll want to linger over the light red wine you've served with the duck terrine (a Cotes du Rhone or a Dolcetto would be perfect), so wait until intermission to bring out dessert. Again, leave the elaborate pastries or messy mousses to less Bowl-savvy diners and create a finger-food finish that's great fun in the casual but art-loving atmosphere.

Medjool dates are large and meltingly sweet. It's so easy to turn them into an elegant dessert that it's almost cheating. Use three contrasting mixtures to stuff the dates -- blue cheese-almond, goat cheese-Grand Marnier-chocolate, and marzipan-pistachio -- and you'll experience a pleasant panoply of flavor combinations along the savory-to-sweet spectrum.

Serve with chilled Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise and coffee to continue to sip as the lights dim and the music begins again.

*

Tomato and frisee salad

Total time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4

1 tablespoon white wine

vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped shallots

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tomatoes, cut into 1 1/2 -inch chunks

1 bunch (about 4 cups) frisee

1. Combine the white wine vinegar, shallots, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in olive oil in a thin stream.

2. Set aside the vinaigrette until you are ready to toss together the salad.

3. Clean the frisee under running water and remove any tough stems. Pat dry with paper towels.

4. Just before packing up your picnic, toss the tomatoes with the frisee. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat.

Each serving: 139 calories; 4 grams protein; 13 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 248 mg. sodium.

*

Chilled zucchini soup

Total time: 40 minutes, plus chilling time

Servings: 6

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 leeks, white part only chopped (about 1 cup)

1/4 cup chopped carrot

1 clove garlic, minced

4 cups chicken broth

1 small (about 1/4 pound) boiling potato, peeled and diced

Salt

1 1/2 pounds zucchini, cut in half and cut crosswise into 1/2 -inch pieces

Freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons chopped basil

5 basil leaves, julienned, for garnish

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