Popcorn Alternative

When the National Pasta Association throws a party, you anticipate lots of you-know-what on the menu. And last week's lunch-and-dinner bash, the organization's third annual event on Capitol Hill, lived up to expectations. There were tables laden with all manner of regional American dishes, such as desert pasta with pinto beans, heartland pasta-chicken salad and Pacific pasta primavera, along with chocolate pasta to finish. But gracing the bar was an unexpected treat -- bowls of deep-fried, multi-hued pasta, as crunchy as corn kernels and stoked with Cajun seasonings. Coordinator Susan Foresman, who developed the recipe (and prepared enough of the snack to serve 300 guests), shared this scaled-down version:

PASTA CRISPS (About 20 cocktail servings)

16 ounces pasta (rotini, fusilli, penne, shells, bows or whatever you desire)

Peanut oil for deep-frying

1 tablespoon favorite seasoning (Cajun spice, garlic salt)

2 cups toasted walnuts (optional)

Cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain, rinse and dry between paper towels. In a heavy, deep pan, heat several inches of oil to 365 degrees. Start out by frying a dozen pieces of pasta at a time. (If too much is added to the hot oil, it may boil over.) Stir to separate pieces and fry until brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Immediately sprinkle with seasoning and toss with walnuts if desired. Serve as a snack with drinks.A Southwest Wind Want to add a few new ideas to your entertaining repertoire? Jane Butel, author of "Fiesta!," a collection of Southwestern-style menus and party ideas, will be demonstrating from her latest book, June 27 from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Kitchen Bazaar, 4455 Connecticut Ave. The event is free and open to the public.Cooking Classes for Charity You can learn to cook and simultaneously support a good cause by signing up for the culinary classes offered by the Sheraton Washington's Americus restaurant and its chef, Reed Groban. Beginning this Saturday at 10 a.m. and continuing throughout summer, the course will take students from appetizers to desserts for $25 per person per class, with 50 percent of all proceeds to be donated to the Easter Seal Society for Disabled Children and Adults. The fee includes a chance to win a dinner for eight prepared in your home by chefs from the Sheraton Washington hotel and a progressive dinner party for four, including limousine service from the Sheraton Grand (cocktails), to the Sheraton Washington (for dinner) and the Sheraton Carlton (for dessert). To make reservations, call 328-2000 ext. 2636.