DINNER IN 40 MINUTES

Curried Shrimp and Onions

With Cashews and Rice

(4 servings)

You never know where a terrific spice blend might be hiding.

We spied this combination of spices in a recipe for slow-cooked greens topped with curried onions. Intrigued, we instead tried the same spice treatment with shrimp. The resulting flavor -- rich yet not overwhelmingly hot -- also works wonders with white fish fillets, sea scallops and chicken breasts.

-- Adapted from a recipe in the January 2001 issue of Gourmet magazine

About 1 cup long-grain rice

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, halved and cut into thin wedges

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon mustard seeds (yellow or brown)

Pinch cayenne or chipotle chili powder

About 11/2 pounds shrimp

About 1/2 cup (2 ounces) chopped cashews

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Prepare the rice according to package directions.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and beginning to crisp at the edges, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the curry powder, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, mustard seeds and cayenne or chili powder; set aside.

Peel and devein the shrimp. Rinse the shrimp and pat them completely dry; set aside.

Add the cashews to the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add about 11/2 teaspoons of the spice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat; scrape into a bowl and cover to keep warm.

Wipe out the skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and as much of the remaining spice mix as desired and heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and salt and pepper to taste and cook, turning occasionally to coat, until pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes, depending on the size.

To serve, divide the rice and shrimp among individual plates and spoon the onion-cashew mixture over the rice. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 545 calories, 41 gm protein, 46 gm carbohydrates, 21 gm fat, 258 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 391 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

-- Renee Schettler

Pasta: Part 1

Think pasta from the refrigerated section must be better than the dried stuff? Think again, and take a cue from the Italians, who know better. Refrigerated pasta may be moist, but you'd have a hard time finding an Italian who'd call it fresh (as some packages claim). "Fresh" is a word properly reserved for pasta made by hand immediately prior to cooking, and when time runs short, Italians aren't ashamed to turn to dried pasta.

Many dried pastas, as well as more expensive refrigerated pasta, are bland. But superior quality dried pasta can be flavorful and complex. For a convincing case in point, try one of the remarkable farro pastas from Casino di Caprafico, which are imported from Italy by Penta International (201-451-7171) and sell locally for $6 per 17-ounce box at Dean & DeLuca (3276 M St. NW; 202-342-2500) and Via Reggio (1727 Connecticut Ave. NW; call 202-332-9100). Farro (also known as spelt) is an ancient grain thought to have sustained the Roman legions, and its nutty flavor and high nutritional value may win it legions of modern devotees. Casino di Caprafico makes farro pastas in several shapes, including linguini, spaghetti, tagliatelle, strozzapreti and riccuitelle (wonderful little squiggles). All are so flavorful they require only the lightest dressing of olive oil, salt, red pepper flakes or herbs. For a slightly more elaborate preparation, add a few olives, pine nuts or quartered cherry tomatoes, and meat lovers might also add a couple of grilled sausages for a completely satisfying main course.

-- Michael Franz

Pasta: Part 2

Thoughts of soup come naturally with the cold weather. As often as not, that means homemade chicken soup, that restorative brew that cries out for noodles. But what kind of noodles? The skinny ones are hard to capture in a spoon and the thick, flat ones drip or fall off.

Rao's, the legendary 10-table Italian restaurant in New York's Harlem, has the perfect solution: ditali, one of its artisan-made durum wheat and semolina flour pastas available from its Web site, www.raos.com. Ditali are tiny tubular shapes traditionally used in pasta e fagioli, the classic pasta and bean soup, and a perfect size for children. Cook them al dente in boiling water before adding them; they'll finish cooking in the soup.

Rao's pastas, sauces and condiments are also available at some Whole Foods, Sutton Place Gourmet, Bed, Bath & Beyond and Harris Teeter stores. Call ahead to check availability.

Today's Tip

Many recipes call for browning or searing ingredients in a skillet on the top of the stove and then placing the pan into a hot oven to roast or braise. After the skillet comes out of the oven, it's easy to forget that the handle is still hot. As a reminder that danger has not passed, keep an oven mitt on the handle, even after you place the pan in the sink

To Do

THURSDAY: Tutto Piemonte V -- Siema wine dinner at Barolo restaurant. $69 excludes tax and tip. 7:30 p.m. 223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Call 202-547-5011.

FRIDAY: Herbal tea tasting and lecture at the U.S. Botanic Garden. $10 for nonmembers. Noon-1 p.m. 100 Maryland Ave. NW. Call 202-226-4082 or see www.usbg.gov.

SATURDAY: Cooking demonstration and book signing with "The Art of the Chinese Cookery" author Joan Shih. Free. 1-3 p.m. Kitchen, Etc., Mid Pike Plaza, 11840 Rockville Pike, Rockville. Call 301-468-1770.

SATURDAY: Japanese rice pounding ceremony at Daruma Japan Market. Free. 1 p.m. 6931 Arlington Rd., Bethesda.

MONDAY: Clicquot wine dinner at Laboratorio del Galileo with Roberto Donna. Sponsored by the Corcoran Gallery of Art. $195 for nonmembers includes tax and tip. 7 p.m. 1110 21st St. NW. Call 202-639-1770.

TUESDAY: Guenoc wine dinner at Corduroy restaurant. $95 includes tax and tip. 7 p.m. 1201 K St. NW. Call 202-589-0699.

TUESDAY: Chili pepper dinner at Bangkok Bistro. Guest speaker: Virginia chili pepper grower Robert Farr. Sponsored by TasteDC. $58 includes tax and tip. 7-10 p.m. 3251 Prospect St. NW. Call 202-333-5588 or see www.tastedc.com.

TUESDAY: Wine dinner at San Marco Restaurant. $44.50 excludes tax and tip. 7:30 p.m. 2305 18th St. NW. Call 202-483-9300.

RESERVE NOW:

JAN. 29: Fondue tasting at Melting Pot restaurant. Proceeds benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. $25. 5-8 p.m. 1220 19th St. NW. Call 202-371-0044.

JAN. 30: Italian cooking class with "Rustico: Regional Italian Country Cooking" author Micol Negrin at L'Academie de Cuisine. $65 includes wine dinner. 7-10 p.m. 5021 Wilson Lane, Bethesda. Call 301-986-9490 or see www.lacademie.com.

FEB. 4: Supper in Upper Georgetown -- food tastings at participating restaurants including: Austin Grill, Busara, DaVinci, Enzio's, Faccia Luna, Heritage India, Margarita's, Old Europe, Rocklands, Saveur and Whole Foods Market. Free. 5-9 p.m. Upper Wisconsin Avenue NW. For additional information, call any of the participating restaurants.