Night music, a light picnic

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


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


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

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and saute the leeks and carrots about 3 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and saute an additional 1 minute, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the chicken broth, potato and one-fourth teaspoon salt and simmer about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the zucchini during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

4. Puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth. Allow to cool, then chill the soup in the refrigerator.

5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped basil. Pour the soup into serving bowls and garnish each with a few strips of basil.

Each serving: 84 calories; 4 grams protein; 13 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 3 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 mg. cholesterol; 376 mg. sodium.


Duck terrine

Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

1 whole duck (about 4 1/2 pounds)

1/4 pound thinly sliced Serrano ham or prosciutto, minced

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/4 pound mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/4 -inch dice

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 bunch red Swiss chard

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons duck fat (to be rendered from the duck), divided

1 tablespoon Cognac

1 teaspoon thyme, chopped

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground


1 egg, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground


1. Remove the skin from the duck, setting aside two pieces of breast skin, to be placed on top of the terrine before baking.

2. Put the remaining skin in a saucepan with a cover and cook over medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes until the fat is rendered from the duck. Cool, then strain the duck fat into a container. Chill the duck fat in the refrigerator until the fat is set. Any unused fat can be kept in the refrigerator for future use.

3. Remove the meat from the duck bones. Cut one duck breast into three-fourth-inch cubes and set aside.

4. Into a large bowl, grind the remaining duck meat through the small plate of a meat grinder. Stir in the cubed duck meat and minced Serrano ham. Chill the ground meat while preparing remaining ingredients.

5. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

6. In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of chilled duck fat over medium heat, add the onion and saute 3 to 5 minutes, until the onion is tender and begins to brown around the edges. Add the mushrooms and saute 3 to 6 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to brown and are tender and release their juices. Add the garlic during the last minute of cooking. Let cool.

7. In a large pot of boiling salted water, blanch the Swiss chard about 1 minute until it turns bright green. Shock in ice water, then drain, pat dry and finely chop.

8. Add one-half cup of cold duck fat, the mushroom mixture, chopped Swiss chard, Cognac, thyme, nutmeg, beaten egg, salt and pepper to the ground duck and lightly stir until ingredients are blended.

9. Coat a 9-by-3 3/4 -inch terrine with some of the chilled duck fat. Pat the duck mixture into the terrine.

10. Put the skin from the duck breast over the top of the terrine. Cover with foil and place the terrine on a baking sheet. Bake it for 30 minutes, then uncover and continue to bake 20 to 30 minutes or until juices from the center of the terrine look clear.

11. Let stand at room temperature until cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Each of 6 servings: 429 calories; 27 grams protein; 4 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 33 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 142 mg. cholesterol; 1,421 mg. sodium.


Stuffed dates

Total time: 10 minutes

Servings: 4

12 medjool dates

4 teaspoons Point Reyes blue cheese

4 toasted, salted whole almonds

2 tablespoons goat cheese

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier

1/4 teaspoon powdered sugar plus additional for sprinkling on dates

2 teaspoons chopped bittersweet chocolate

2 tablespoons marzipan

2 teaspoons chopped, toasted pistachio nuts plus extra chopped nuts for dipping dates


1. Make a cut along the side but not through the ends of the date, just large enough to remove the pit. Open up the pocket in the dates so they are ready to fill.

2. For dates stuffed with blue cheese, below, spoon about 1 teaspoon of the blue cheese into each of four dates. Press an almond into the tops of each of four dates and set aside.

3. For goat cheese dates, blend the goat cheese with the Grand Marnier until smooth. Stir in one-fourth teaspoon powdered sugar and the chopped chocolate. Divide the mixture into each of four dates. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

4. For marzipan dates, blend together the marzipan and toasted pistachio nuts. Divide the filling into each of four dates. Dip the top of the dates in chopped pistachio nuts then roll dates in sugar.

Each serving: 291 calories; 4 grams protein; 60 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams fiber; 6 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 5 mg. cholesterol; 67 mg. sodium.

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