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TIME'S RUNNING OUT TO SAVOR TOMATOES

Summer means tomatoes, and tomatoes mean summer. That's the good news.

The only bad news is that it's zipping by so quickly. Merely a few weeks remain to savor the season's most anticipated and versatile produce.So if you haven't had a plate of sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil or a BLT since the first tomatoes came off the vine, do that today. They'll be gone before you know it.

And try these:

- Tomato halves stuffed with grapes and sprinkled with a mixture of bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and chopped basil and then baked for 45 minutes.

- Tomato and peach salad: slices of each sprinkled with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil.

- Pasta salad with bacon, tomato and avocado. This is easy and delicious. Combine 1/2-pound bowtie pasta, cooked bacon, diced avocado and a big ripe chopped tomato. Toss with 1/2 cup mayonaaise.

- A tomato chutney to dab on grilled fish or chicken. Soak 2/3 cup yellow raisins in 1/2 cup orange juice for 30 minutes, and then drain. Combine raisins with 2 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes, 5 minced green onions, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 small red chili pepper (seeded and minced), 11/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, 3 tablespoons minced cilantro, 1 to 11/2 tablespoons lime juice and salt. All to sit for an hour before using. (From "Lee Bailey's Tomatoes," Potter 1992).

- Make summer tomato soup. In a food processor, process 8 halves and seeded tomatoes, 1/4 sweet onion, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon honey, juice of 1 lemon. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup plain yogurt, and process just until blended. Stir in 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced, and 1/2 cup chopped chives. Chill two hours and serve. (From "Sweet Onions & Sour Cherries" Simon & Schuster, 1992).

And two more great treatments for tomatoes: Delicate-tasting lemon-and herb-stuffed tomatoes, to be served warm or room temperature as an antipasto; and spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, herbs and mozzarella.

The raw pasta sauce showcases the tomatoes beauitfully. Tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and herbs are not really cooked - just scalded by hot olive oil before they're tossed with pasta. It's something you simply can't do with the canned tomatoes you'll be using in October.

*****

RECIPES

LEMON AND HERB-STUFFED TOMATOES

8 Roma tomatoes

Salt

3 eggs

6 tablespoons bread crumbs

8 basil leaves

3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped

Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Ground nutmeg to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Salt the interiors and turn upside down on paper towels to drain for 20 minutes.

Lightly beat eggs with a fork. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Arrange tomatoes in a baking dish and divide stuffing among them.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until tomatoes are tender but still hold their shape and stuffing is firm. Let rest 5 minutes before serving. Or make early in day and serve room temperature. Serves 4.

- From "Verdura," by Viana La Place, Morrow 1991.

SPAGHETTI WITH FRESH TOMATOES, HERBS AND MOZZARELLA

1 pound spaghetti

2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced

2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook spaghetti in boiling salted water.

Meanwhile, put tomatoes, mozzarella and all herbs in bowl big enough to accommodate pasta. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.

Heat olive oil until it is smoking hot and pour it over mixture in the bowl.

When pasta is al dente, drain and add it to sauce in bowl. Toss well, until pasta is coated. Cover bowl with plate and allow to stand 2 minutes so cheese melt before you serve it. Serves 6 as first course, or 4 as main course.

- Giuliano Hazan's "The Classic Pasta Cookbook," Dorling Kingersley, 1993)