Salad: from Saladin, swift-stricking scourage of the Crusades and router of Richard the Lionhearted; meaning, something to be eaten on your way to something else.

I NEVER mastered the little green salad (I don't own a black cocktail dress, either). Maybe that's why I always keep a handful of summer aces up my sleeve. Rabbit-in-the-hat stuff. Guaranteed to disappear and to look jgood going down.

First, my house special -- the Manhattan, so called because of the gray and burgundy color scheme, like a good smoking jacket or a Cole Porter revue. aStart with fresh pale mushrooms in profusion, slice medium thick and marinate two to three hours in a wine vinaigrette. Then add raw red cabbage (cut head into wedges, slice into half-inch sections and pull apart).Toss and serve. Any unlikely leftovers will just improve overnight.

Second, the Amaretto, or "little cupid" (look it up if you don't believe me). This depends on those absolutely amazing just-off-the-vine perfect tomatoes, peeled, wedged and alternated with wedges of a mozzarella or soft provolone cheese. Cover with chopped frest basil and vinaigrette, or just with basil, vinegar and fresh-ground black pepper.

Third, the Saucy Fellow -- crumbled cooked mild Italian sausage and sliced raw mushrooms, again in vinaigrette. You'll just have to fiddle around to get the propertions you like. I picked this up from a CIA friend (no, no -- the Culinary Institute of America) who used about equal parts; I tend to like about two parts mushrooms to one sausage. You can use Smithfield ham sausage for a smokier flavor, but in that case marinate the mushrooms in advance and then drain them before tossing with the sausage.

Finally, Freezer Magic, also known as Aspicable Anything. This is what you do when you haven't any ideas for the first course and you want something light and you're going to serve seafood later so you can't fall back on seviche . . . you pull all those nice duck and chicken and goose carcasses out of the freezer, boil'em down to stock and then turn them into aspic with the egg-shell trick (look up clarifying in the ol' "Joy of Cooking") Now, this may require overcoming some longtime prejudices: In Nashville, aspic is what you serve at the kind of luncheon where the chief topic of conversation is bysterectomies. But trust me. Duck aspic is delicious, and you can top it with whatever comes to hand -- baba ghanouj, mandarin orange sections, peppery Belgian endive.

Besides, green looks simply ghastly by candlelight.