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For foliage-watchers, here's the perfect pasta for a picnic


Fall is by far my favorite season of the year. After a summer break, I can't wait to begin giving cooking classes again. My spouse, a college professor, is equally enthusiastic about returning to campus to meet his students, and our grown son, a sports fan, looks forward to spending autumn Saturdays rooting for his hometown's football team. But of all the pleasures fall brings, it is the changing landscape with its incredible foliage that I enjoy most.

Our own backyard becomes a blaze of orange, red and yellow hues. Nearby, a bike trail that cuts a swathe through a forest of trees is filled with both locals and visitors who ride under the canopy of brilliant colors. In fact, in New England where we live the foliage is so important that local television stations give "leaf peeper" updates on which areas are best for viewing. Whether a walking, biking or riding excursion, such outings are often followed by picnics.

I love to plan and prepare the menus for such al fresco meals. Hearty sandwiches, cole slaws, salads, and soups kept warm in thermos bottles are typical choices, while apples and pears served with homemade cookies and brownies usually complete the offerings. This year, a new creation, a BLT Pasta Salad, will be included in the picnic hamper.

For this salad, bow-tie pasta called farfalle are tossed with halved sweet grape tomatoes, bits of bacon and chopped arugula along with minced red onions. A simple dressing prepared with purchased mayonnaise, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and white wine vinegar complements the other ingredients and takes only minutes to assemble. This side dish can be made a couple of hours in advance and packed in a plastic container for easy transport.

Roasted or grilled chicken served at room temperature would make an excellent accompaniment to the BLT Salad. (If you're short on time, don't hesitate to buy a roasted chicken from your local supermarket.) Add a loaf of crusty French or Italian bread, some cheeses, fresh fruit, and either homemade or purchased biscotti to your picnic basket, then head for your region's best fall foliage site with some good friends.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

BLT Pasta Salad is just the thing for 'leaf peepers'

BLT Pasta Salad

Makes 8 servings

1 pound farfalle (bow-tie) pasta


2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces sliced bacon cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 cup regular or reduced-fat (not nonfat) mayonnaise

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, plus more if needed

4 cups grape tomatoes, cleaned and halved lengthwise (see Note)

1 cup chopped sweet red onion

1 1/2 cups cleaned, stemmed, coarsely chopped arugula

Bring large pot of salted water to boil and add pasta. Cook until al dente (just tender to the bite), then drain and transfer to large, shallow nonreactive serving bowl. Toss pasta with olive oil and set aside.

In large, heavy skillet set over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp and golden, then drain on paper towels.

In small mixing bowl whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, half of Parmesan cheese, and pepper. Add to bowl with pasta and toss well to coat pasta with dressing. Add bacon, tomatoes, onion, arugula and remaining Parmesan cheese, and toss well to mix. Taste and season salad with more salt and pepper if desired. (Salad can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at cool room temperature.)

Note: Baskets of small, sweet grape tomatoes are available in most groceries, but if you can't find them, cherry tomatoes can be substituted. Halve small cherry tomatoes and quarter large ones.

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