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Crisp vegetables in layers are colorful to slice, fun to eat

My first experience with a vegetable pate happened six years ago, a disappointing combination of canned asparagus, canned celery root, and canned artichoke hearts that were given a cosmetic face lift with canned pimento and fresh parsley.

Who could ever spot this as a future trend? Who would have thought vegetable pate would become the au courant of hors d'oeuvres?

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But then six years ago, who would have thought we'd learn not to cook vegetables so much and that "nouvelle cuisine" was to revolutionize the world of cooks?

I'm still not sure about the revolution, but a vegetable pate prepared with crisp-cooked vegetables a la nouvelle cuisine, in attractive layers with clear aspic, is beautiful to behold -- and delicious.

As you can see, the recipes are long and look arduous, but the first time is the hardest. If you read through one first, you can dovetail the activities and save time. Like bread or puff paste, it can be done when you have a few hours of uninterrupted kitchen time.

A vegetable steamer is the best way to cook vegetables, but each may be boiled in a little water if necessary.

Beaten egg holds the cooked vegetables together in the Tricolor Pate, and it is baked in a pan of hot water like a custard. It is not beautiful until sliced , and benefits from the mimosa white, yellow, and green garnish.

The second pate is for fun, a harking back to the ladies' luncheons when vegetable pate was called a gelatin salad. As the French philosopher said . . . the more things change, the more they stay the same. They were beloved by hostesses because they could be made ahead, a feature we certainly don't despise today. Tricolor Vegetable Pate Eggplant layer: 1 1-pound long, thin eggplant 1/3 cup chopped parsley Tomato layer: 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped 1 green pepper, finely chopped 1 medium onion, finely chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 1/4 teaspoon oregano Spinach layer: 1 10-ounce package chopped spinach, defrosted 8 large eggs, well beaten 1 1/2 cups grated Romano cheese 2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated pepper Mimosa Garnish: hard-boiled egg and minced parsley

Cut unpeeled eggplant into 1/2-inch lengthwise slices and cut slices into 1/2 -inch cubes. Salt and set aside for 30 minutes to drain. Rinse and steam over boiling water until soft, about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool. In skillet, heat oil and saute onion, green pepper, and garlic until soft, but not brown, about 8 minutes. Add oregano and chopped tomatoes, and saute until moisture has evaporated and tomatoes are soft. Set aside to cool.

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Place spinach in a bowl. Beat together the eggs, cheese, and seasonings until thoroughly combined. Add half the egg mixture to the spinach and divide the other half between the tomato and the eggplant. Stir chopped parsley into the eggplant.

Butter liberally a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan or a round pan. If you have chosen the round shape, the pate will be served in wedges. First add the eggplant, then the tomato layer, and finally the spinach layer, spooning in the ingredients carefully from one layer to the next to keep them separate. Cover with a round of greased wax paper cut to fit.

Set pan in a larger pan and fill the larger pan with boiling water to come halfway up the mold. Bake in a preheated 350-degree F. oven for 45 minutes, or until the center tests done.

Cool to room temperature. Turn out on a serving platter and sprinkle with the mimosa garnish. Serve cut in thick slices to 10 to 12.

To prepare mimosa garnish, force egg white and egg yolk separately through a sieve into a small bowl. Combine with the same bulk of minced parsley, and toss to distribute it evenly. Tomato Tuna Pate 2 tablespoons cider vinegar 2 tablespoons water 3 envelopes unflavored gelatin 3 cups tomato juice 2 tablespoons hot taco sauce or Tabasco sauce to taste 1 cup seeded and finely chopped cucumber 1/4 cup chopped pimento stuffed green olives 1 cup drained, chopped canned tomato 1 7-ounce can solid tuna in oil, drained and flaked 2 scallions, finely minced 1/2 cup minced celery 1/2 bunch watercress Green Mayonnaise: 1/2 bunch watercress 1 teaspoon lemon juice 2 tablespoons sour cream 1 cup mayonnaise

Combine vinegar and water and 1/4 cup tomato juice and sprinkle gelatin in to soften. Heat the remaining tomato juice and taco sauce, add the gelatin mixture , and stir over moderate heat until gelatin is dissolved. Cool to room temperature. Set pan in a bowl of ice cubes and stir constantly until cool, but not set.

Combine tuna, scallion, and celery in a bowl and add 1 cup of the aspic. Set aside. Add to the remaining aspic the cucumber, olive, and tomato. Pour half into a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan rinsed out in water and chill until set.

Add tuna layer and chill until set. Add remaining tomato, cover, and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight. Cut in thick slices, garnish with watercress, and serve Green Mayonnaise.

To make dressing, remove thick stems from watercress, cover with boiling water, and steep for 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Combine with remaining ingredients in the container of a blender and blend until it turns green.

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