DINNER TONIGHT

Penne With Middle Eastern Eggplant Sauce

(4 to 6 servings)

Pasta is the perfect weeknight dinner solution. This recipe clocks in at 40 minutes total kitchen time. Not too bad for a spicy dinner from scratch, although you may need to tone the spices down a tad for the kids.

From "Noodles Express: Fast and Easy Meals in 15 to 45 Minutes" by Dana McCauley (Firefly Books, $14.95).

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

28 ounce-can tomatoes, with about 1/3 cup of the juice

12 ounces penne (may substitute other short pasta)

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2/3 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago cheese

In a large deep skillet or wok over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and the eggplant. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is browned, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper and tomatoes, using a spoon to break up the tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to package directions.

Drain well. Stir the pasta and parsley into the eggplant sauce, toss to combine, and cook for 1 minute or until heated through. Sprinkle with the cheese and serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 6): 410 calories, 15 gm protein, 57 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 813 mg sodium, 6 gm dietary fiber

THE WEEKLY DISH

Scoop du jour: One of the city's most elegant restaurants, Lespinasse (923 16th St. NW; 202-879-6900) has lost its top toque, Sandro Gamba, who cooked his last meal at the St. Regis Hotel last Thursday night. Only 18 months at the helm, the 29-year-old Frenchman--recipient of a Michelin star and a student of two of the world's finest chefs, Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse--says his departure was preceded by requests from management to cut back on kitchen staff and downsize lunch service. Hotel general manager Peter Walterspiel counters that the bistro menu, introduced last fall, makes sense for busy Washingtonians, but declined to elaborate on Gamba's departure: "It's not really open to discussion." Meanwhile, sous chef Sean Harlan steps up to the stove and Gamba is weighing his options. "I like very much Washington," he says.

Haute stuff: Antiques, Bernadaud china and a table with seating for 10 distinguish the private salon recently unveiled above the main dining room of Bistrot Lepic (1736 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-333-0111) in Upper Georgetown. Dubbed "Rue Lepic," the suite features a bar and sitting area in addition to the cooking of chef-owner Bruno Fortin. His eight-course menu costs $100 a person, without wine and tip, but embraces plenty of luxuries, from foie gras and lobster to fish such as Dover sole napped with caviar sauce. Of course there are cheeses, souffles and homemade pastries to close a meal. "I'm trying to keep it special for my good customers," says the chef. The private line to reserve the space: 202-333-2738. --Tom Sietsema

ADD THIS WEB SITE TO YOUR BOOKMARKS

www.mycookbook.com

We scoff at the notion that the Internet will usurp the role--or the charm--of the handwritten recipe. That said, we think this storage site offers a wonderful service. Just sign in, choose a password and start typing your favorite recipes. Next time someone begs you for one of your recipes, just pass along this URL and your password. Sure, this concept necessitates some typing, but it's just as quick as jotting a few ingredients down on paper. Storage of the first 100 recipes is free.

SHELF LIFE; More for Your Condiment Collection

Here's a product that can pull double duty, on both the condiment shelf and at the bar. Angostura Bitters, a key ingredient in Old-Fashioned and Champagne cocktails, has culinary uses as well. And this world-famous brand of bitters has a long history to boot.

As the story goes, J.G.B. Siegert, a surgeon working in Venezuela, blended his first batch of bitters in 1824 as a tonic for soldiers suffering from tropical diseases. A combo of herbs, spices, alcohol, as well as a bitter-tasting root named gentian, mixed with water, it helped settle the stomach. Sailors smitten with the tonic's ability to soothe the seasick carried it around the world. In 1830 Siegert named it Angostura after a town on the Orinoco River in Venezuela.

Today these fine bitters, which come in a distinctive bottle covered with fine print in Spanish, German, French and English, are blended on the island of Trinidad. But on Trinidad the islanders are not making Old-Fashioneds. They use it to flavor soups and gravies. They shake a few dashes on fish and meat. And it doesn't stop there. It's popular as a topping for grapefruit and on ice cream and plum pudding as well.

Angostura Aromatic Bitters contains 44.7 percent alcohol by volume. It's sold in liquor stores. A 10-ounce bottle sells for about $7.99.

We're Going by the Book

Any book that devotes ample space to meatloaf, of all things epicurean, deserves consideration. Take this snippet from the aforementioned entry: "A worthy dish, which can embody the sort of rusticity which the word 'peasant' evokes, but can also exhibit the kind of refinement associated with bourgeoise cookery. Its range, however, does not extend into the realm of haute cuisine."

A self-proclaimed magnum opus, "The Oxford Companion to Food" by Alan Davidson (Oxford University Press, $60) is an 892-page encyclopedia. Thankfully, it's witty in tone (but in an eloquent way). It spans "adulteration" to "zabaglione" and includes 40 feature-length articles. It delves into culinary and etymological history, gives cross-references and supports its assertions with quotes as well as the occasional shocking detail or three. (We paused upon finding "connective tissue" and "rat" as entries, but on further reflection, decided they added to the book's overall, ahem, charm.)

To Do

TONIGHT: Italian wine tasting sponsored by Rotunda Wine & Spirits at Spike and Charlie's restaurant. $30. 6-8 p.m. 1225 Cathedral St., Baltimore. Call 410-467-7777.

THURSDAY: Wine dinner at Fairmont Bar & Dining. $40 includes tax and tip. 6:30 p.m. 4936 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda. Call 301-654-7989.

SUNDAY: Romantic Brunch--cooking class at Fresh Fields Arlington. $15. 10 a.m.- noon. 2700 Wilson Blvd. Call 703-527-6596.

MONDAY: Cooking demonstration and dinner to benefit L'Academie de Cuisine scholarship fund. Guest chefs: alumni Peter Smith, Jacques Van Staden and Virginia Olson. $65 includes dinner, tax and tip. 7 p.m. 16006 Industrial Dr., Gaithersburg. Call 301-670-8670.

TUESDAY: Italian wine dinner at San Marco restaurant. $36.50 excludes tax and tip. 7:30 p.m. 2305 18th St. NW. Call 202-483-9300.

TUESDAY: French wine dinner at Rupperts restaurant. Sponsored by Fresh Fields Georgetown and Wine Traditions Ltd. $75 includes tax and tip. 6:30 p.m. 1017 Seventh St. NW. Call 301-984-4874 ext. 3029.

RESERVE NOW:

JAN. 26: Beneath the Toque, Behind the Front Desk and at the Table--dining discussion with local Zagat editor Olga Boikess, chef Susan Lindeborg and restaurant manager Thomas Herink. Free. 7 p.m. Borders Books and Music, 18th and L streets NW. Call 202-466-4999.

JAN. 30: Super Bowl cigar dinner featuring sausage and pizza stations and traditional football snacks at Lansdowne Resort. $75 includes tax and tip. 5:30 p.m. 44050 Woodridge Pkwy., Leesburg. Call 703-858-2107.