- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Why does food taste better eaten out of doors? As I sit with my husband on the patio of our home and fork into sliced ripe tomatoes, bite into a grilled burger or nibble on an arugula salad, I can’t help thinking we should do this every day. Especially when the weather is warm, the mosquitoes aren’t biting and there is music in the air.

As for the music, we crank up Frank Sinatra or Cole Porter if it’s just the two of us. But you can do far better if you plan a meal in the park listening to your local symphony or a band. I’m sharing a simple menu for toting to such a concert or for serving on your patio with your own music.

This meal is based on one of my family’s favorite last-minute suppers: hot pasta combined with canned white beans and flaked tuna in an olive oil and lemon vinaigrette. Add basil and a ripe tomato, and you have a hearty salad that needs only cucumber sandwiches, fruit, biscotti, a chilled bottle of white wine and good company.

The sandwiches are easily made by trimming the crusts from good, sturdy sliced sourdough or other sandwich bread, spreading mayonnaise lightly over, adding fresh peeled cucumber slices, then sprinkling the tops with seasoned salt.

TIME-SHAVING TIPS FOR TUNA

• Flake tuna with a little olive oil to make it moist. Serve it over salad greens with steamed green beans, hard-cooked egg, anchovies, and an oil-and-vinegar dressing.

• Make a fast tuna spread by pureeing the tuna with black olives, salt, pepper, and an oil-and-vinegar dressing.

• Add chopped hard-cooked egg and fresh tarragon to tuna, using mayonnaise to bind it.

• Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, my mother’s surefire trick for freshening up canned tuna.

• Turn leftover tuna salad into an easy tuna melt by spooning it onto slices of bread and topping it with shredded cheese. Broil until bubbling.

Italian alfresco dinner menu:

Cucumber sandwiches

Tuscan tuna and white bean salad

Sliced peaches and plums

Lemon pecan biscotti

Tuscan tuna and white bean salad

Salt for cooking the pasta, optional

1 cup (4 ounces) pasta, such as penne, radiatori or bow tie

1/4 cup olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup rinsed and drained canned great northern beans (see note)

½ cup chopped tomato

½ cup chopped fresh basil

1 (6-ounce) can tuna, drained and broken into chunks

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add salt, if using, and stir in the pasta. Reduce heat to medium-high, and cook the pasta, uncovered, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper in a large serving bowl, and whisk to combine. Set the vinaigrette aside.

Drain pasta well in a colander, shaking it a few times to remove any water that might still cling to it. Transfer pasta to the bowl with the vinaigrette, and stir until it is coated. Add the great northern beans, tomato and basil. Add tuna and stir until all of the ingredients are coated with vinaigrette. Serve at once. Makes 2 to 4 servings as a main course.

Note: If you’re a fan of white beans, use the entire 15.5-ounce can. When using canned beans in a salad, be sure to rinse them in a colander and let them drain well. Add 2 cups sauteed zucchini to this salad to make it even more substantial.

Lemon pecan biscotti

The preparation time is 15 minutes. The baking time is 30 to 35 minutes for the first baking and 10 minutes for the second, and the resting time in the oven is 30 to 40 minutes.

1 (18.25-ounce) package plain lemon cake mix

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

2 large eggs

1 cup flour, plus extra for flouring hands

½ cup chopped pecans

Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

Place cake mix, melted butter, eggs, 1 cup flour and pecans in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until well blended, 3 to 4 minutes.

Stop the machine, then scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. The dough should come together into a ball. Transfer it to the prepared baking sheet. With floured hands, shape the dough into a rectangle about 14 inches long by 4 inches wide by ½ inch thick. Mound the dough so it is slightly higher in the center. Place baking sheet in the oven.

Bake biscotti rectangle until it feels firm when lightly pressed with your finger and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove baking sheet from the oven, and let the biscotti cool 10 minutes. Leave the oven on.

Cutting on the baking sheet, use a sharp serrated bread knife to slice the rectangle on the diagonal into 1-inch-thick slices. You should get 14 slices. Carefully turn these slices onto their sides, using the slicing knife to arrange them on the same baking sheet. Return baking sheet to the oven.

Bake the biscotti 10 minutes. Turn the oven off, and let the biscotti remain in the oven until they are crisp, 30 to 40 minutes more. Remove baking sheet from the oven, transfer biscotti to a rack, and allow them to cool completely, 2 hours. Store the biscotti in an airtight container at room temperature for up to several weeks. Makes 14 biscotti.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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