DINNER IN 20 MINUTES

Pasta With Parmesan Cream and Crisp Prosciutto

(4 servings)

Before you tally the amount of fuss and grams of fat for pasta with cream sauce, take a look at this rendition.

We used a mild Parmesan cream that barely clings to the strands of pasta. Instead of a lumpy roux and gobs of heavy cream, we rely on a smidgen of pungent Parmesan to flavor and thicken a half cup of light cream. Crisped prosciutto lends a flavor and crunch not unlike bacon but with less mess and less saturated fat. And using a pasta with a thin diameter -- such as spaghettini or angel hair -- shortens the cooking time by several minutes. If a mildly sweet or peppery component is desired, add a handful of thinly sliced spinach or arugula leaves while tossing the pasta with the cream sauce. Adapted from a recipe in "La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia" by Fred Plotkin (Broadway Books, 2001).

12 to 16 ounces fresh or dried pasta, preferably tagliolini or spaghettini

About 4 ounces sliced prosciutto

11/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup light cream

About 4 teaspoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 large handful thinly sliced spinach or arugula leaves (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, finely chop the prosciutto. Place a skillet or saucepan large enough to hold the pasta over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. When the butter has melted, add the prosciutto, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until the prosciutto is crisp and browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the prosciutto to a plate and set aside.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter. When the butter has melted, add the cream and stir well. Add the cheese and stir just until the sauce thickens slightly. (If the pasta is not done yet, reduce the heat under the sauce to low and stir occasionally.)

Drain the pasta, discarding the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to the skillet along with the spinach or arugula, if using, and toss to coat with the sauce. Divide the pasta among plates and sprinkle with the prosciutto. Serve hot.

Per serving (using 12 ounces pasta): 459 calories, 19 gm protein, 65 gm carbohydrates, 13 gm fat, 46 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 465 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

-- Renee Schettler

Valentine Messages

Look no farther for beautifully decorated, buttery sugar cookies in the shape of undergarments. For the Valentine in your life, Jill's Custom Cookies makes boxers, bras and more. For seven years, owner Jill Fahey, a long-time Washingtonian, created specialty pastries for Susan Gage Caterers in Oxon Hill. Now her edible, special-occasion art is available by mail. Consider: Sassy Secrets (above, $60 plus shipping) -- a dozen cookies shaped like "his" and "hers" unmentionables. Conversation Hearts (right, $35 plus shipping) -- a dozen, heart-shaped cookies, decorated with classic Valentine flirtations and enclosed in a pretty pink organza bag. Order by Feb. 10 for delivery by Feb. 14; call 703-575-9496. Web site: www.cookiesbyjill.com.

Shopping Cart

There's a new solid vegetable shortening on supermarket shelves. And unlike its well-known counterpart, it contains nary a trace of hydrogenated oils or trans fatty acids.

Instead, Earth Balance Shortening is a blend of expeller-pressed -- not hydrogenated -- oils, including olive, canola, soybean and palm fruit (not to be confused with palm kernel oil).

Local vegan cooking instructor Mimi Clark introduced us to the shortening sticks. When homemade pie crusts and fried chicken made with the more traditional shortening were tasted alongside examples made with Earth Balance shortening, the latter tasted only slightly less rich than the traditional and, in fact, turned a more fetching shade of golden brown. (It is not recommended to substitute Earth Balance Shortening for butter.)

Earth Balance Natural Shortening is available locally for about $2.29 per 15-ounce package at some health or natural food stores, including Whole Foods Market.

Today's Tip

To stack skillets without scratching the cooking surface of the nonstick ones, slip a paper towel, dish towel or a sheet of bubble wrap between the pans.

To Do

THURSDAY: Savory Pies -- cooking class at Sur La Table. $65. 6:30 p.m. 1101 South Joyce St., Arlington. Call 866-328-5412.

SATURDAY: Italian wine tasting at the Wine Source. $25. 2-4 p.m. 3601 Elm Ave., Baltimore. Call 410-467-7777.

SATURDAY: Chefs A'Field -- television program featuring local chef Nora Pouillon on PBS. Part of a 13-part series sponsored by Whole Foods Market. 4 p.m. WETA (Channel 26).

MONDAY: The French Chef Cooks Boeuf Bourguignon -- Commemoration of the 40th anniversary of "The French Chef" program with viewing of Julia Child's first TV show. Sponsored by the American Institute of Wine and Food. $110 for nonmembers includes wine dinner and panel discussion. 6:30 p.m. Four Season Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Call 202-333-0421 or see www.aiwf.org/dc.

MONDAY: Chocolate Couverture -- cooking class on chocolate sauces and dipping techniques at Whole Foods Market. Free. 7 p.m. 4530 40th St. NW. Call 202-237-5800.

TUESDAY: Collaborative dinner prepared by Chef Patrick O' Connell, Inn at Little Washington, and Chef Santi Santamaria, El Raco de Can Fabes. $275 per person, including wine and gratuity. Benefits Share Our Strength. The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va. Call 540-675-3800.

RESERVE NOW:

FEB. 13: Heartwarming Chocolate Competition -- cooking competition featuring local chefs and silent auction. Benefits Save a Child's Heart Foundation. $50 in advance; $60 at the door. 7-9 p.m. Ritz-Carlton, Washington, 1150 22nd St. NW. Call 301-649-7703 or see www.saveachildsheart.com.

FEB 13: Night of Stars -- regional Spanish wine dinner at Taberna del Alabardero. Special guest: chef Santi Santamaria. $200 excludes tax and tip. 8 p.m. 1776 Eye St. NW. Call 202-429-2200.

FEB. 18: Australian wine dinner at Vivo! restaurant featuring chef Claudia Madsen of the Australian Embassy. $75 includes tax and tip. 7 p.m. 1509 17th St. NW. Call 703-759-0487.

FEB. 20: Long vineyards wine dinner at Marcel's restaurant. Special guest Robert Long. $125 includes tax and tip. 7:30 p.m. 2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Call 202-296-1166.