Lemons and pasta bring family together

Jim Hillibish GateHouse News Service

Everything about Anna Cimollini was large — personality, voice, zest for living and all that physical stuff.She owned the Athena restaurant in Norfolk, Ohio, a place kept small on purpose. For Anna, it was like her dining room at home, and all customers became instant family.

“Nobody eats here alone,” she said, pulling up a second wooden chair to my table. She then disappeared into the kitchen and soon came back with Zuppa Fredda di Pomodoro — chilled, fresh tomato and garlic soup with lime wedges — for both of us.

In the Athena, they frown on menus. Anna did the ordering. This way, you always got the freshest food, and you often discovered something wonderful. And so it would be that hot, lazy afternoon. Anna produced a simple platter of angel-hair pasta and sautéed prawns. The aroma was startling — fresh lemons.

“My father grew a terrace of lemon trees in Amalfi. My uncle was a shrimper. The two came together with this,” she said. “More cheese?”

We ate. Anna showed me how to slurp pasta, none of that spoon twirling routine Americans do. Buttery lemon pasta sliding between your lips is as sensual as food gets.

“You’re coming back tomorrow night,” she said. It wasn’t a question. “We’re having the most marvelous Zuppa di Cozze.”

The Athena and Anna are gone now, but not really. On a hot afternoon last week, I dusted off the memory and amazed my family.

Jim Hillibish is a food writer for the Canton (Ohio) Repository. Reach him at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com.

Pasta Con Gamberi Al Limonen 1/2 pound angel hair pasta

• 16 medium-size shrimp, uncooked

• 1 lemon

• 1 pat butter

• Olive oil

• 1 small zucchini, slicedn 1/4 cup red pepper, slicedn 2 tablespoons red onion, dicedn 1/4 cup fresh parsley, choppedn Grated parmesan cheesen Salt and pepper to tasteShell and devein the shrimp. Brine for 1 hour in salt water to puff up. Juice and zest the lemon (remove flecks of its skin). Boil pasta until just done. Heat olive oil and sauté vegetables. Wash shrimp, pat dry and sauté with vegetables for 2 to 3 minutes, then off heat. Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water. Add water, butter, lemon juice and zest to pasta and toss. Stir in vegetables and shrimp. Serves 2 with cheese on side and parsley on top.

Notes: Very good as a chilled summer salad on lettuce dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp. It’s done as soon as it turns white.