June 9, 2010 12:29:00 PM
Jan Swoope - email@example.com
Ah, Italian cuisine. It''s among some of the world''s richest and most varied. From quick late-night snacks to complex culinary creations, Italy''s flavorful foods are frequent favorites of the American palate.
A taste of Italy will surface in the Golden Triangle Sunday, June 13, at Trotter Convention Center. The Lowndes County chapter of the NAACP will host is first-ever International Tea. Cuisine representing Italy, Africa, China and Mexico, as well as the United States, will be showcased.
Chapter president Lavonne Harris, an enthusiastic cook, helped spearhead the innovative idea.
Bustling efficiently in her cozy kitchen in East Columbus, Harris talked about the event and why she chose Italy in particular for her inspiration.
"I love to cook! And my son, Sgt. Anthony Latham, is in the Army, stationed in Italy for the past two years. That''s why I chose it," Harris said, animatedly stirring a pot of angel hair pasta for lemon pesto capellini with shrimp.
She and some of her family visited the historic boot-shaped country in 2008, so she has some firsthand knowledge of the typical foods.
Harris has embraced her culinary theme with passion. Without revealing all her secrets for Sunday, she did let on she''ll prepare the capellini (very thin pasta), a spicy Italian soup, Italian pasta, a lasagna and Italian green beans.
"In the green beans, I use basil leaves, add season blend -- it''s got chopped onions, red peppers and other ingredients -- a little vinegar and butter. I normally cook some smoked (turkey) neck bones in it to give it flavor. ... My other dishes are going to remain a surprise," she adds with a sassy grin. One special recipe came from her son, living in Italy.
A tip or two
When cooking with pasta, Harris, advises spraying with Pam, or some type of cooking spray, to avoid sticking.
"And don''t overcook; I try to cook my pasta 12 minutes, constantly stirring as I go. You can use wheat pasta, too."
When it comes to seasonings, let time work for you.
"I like for my seasonings to sit in my food good, to really give it the flavor.
This busy woman, who has Von''s Exotic Hair Salon on Gardner Boulevard and is active in community efforts like Dream 365, is known as a generous cook.
"I cook for everybody," she admits, mentioning community members, as well as family (including two daughters and six grandchildren) who frequently surround the dining table. "Everybody eats at my house."
Her culinary repertoire is wide, with her signature lemon pepper chicken in high demand, as well as her delicious catfish and chicken wings.
"I''m famous for my macaroni and cheese," she says matter-of-factly. "When I make it, it don''t stay here," she laughs.
For instilling her skills and love of cooking, Harris gives "all the credit" to her mother, Katie B. Latham of Macon.
A take-charge artist, Harris knows exactly how she prefers things done in her kitchen and enjoys doing them herself when meal time approaches.
"But I do have a rule," she smiles ... I love to cook, but I don''t do dishes."
The tea Sunday is open to the public. Tickets at the door will be $10 for adults and $5 for children 10 and under.
"There will be about 50 to 60 people preparing dishes for the tea," Harris shares. "We''re hoping for 300 to 400 people to come."
The group plans to have a drill team present flags from the countries represented.
" ... Like bringing these countries together, we''re all coming together as a community."
The fundraiser will assist the NAACP chapter to continue providing scholarships and local service projects.
"On class night May 20 this year at Columbus High School, we gave out $1,100 in scholarships," Harris said. The group also distributes free school supplies each summer and assists with serving Thanksgiving meals as part of the mayor''s and community''s efforts each November.
The organization will also host a Family and Friends Day July 31 at the United Christian Church pavilion, off Highway 69 South. Free school supplies will be distributed from 10 a.m.- noon. "Food and fun for children and grown folks" are in store from 4-7 p.m.
For more information about the International Tea, contact Harris at 662-549-2390.
For a taste of Italia at home, try Harris'' lemon pesto capellini recipe in today''s pages, along with some other recipes to illicit a hearty "Buon appetito!"
LEMON PESTO CAPELLINI WITH SHRIMP
Makes four 1 3/4 cup servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
8 ounces uncooked angel hair pasta (capellini)
One 12-ounce package frozen ready-to-cook shrimp
One 7-ounce container refrigerated pesto, room temperature
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 1/3 ounce (1/3 cup) shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
(Recipe courtesy of Lavonne Harris)
BAKED RICOTTA WITH CARAMELIZED TOMATO SAUCE
2 pints cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons finely chopped basil (divided in half)
10 black pitted kalamata olives, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon capers, chopped
For the baked ricotta:
2 pounds fresh ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped basil
1 cup grated Parmesa cheese
Salt and pepper
Prep time: 25 minutes
(5 minutes active)
14 ounces Penne rigate pasta (cooked al dente)
3 1/2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Two cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
Two-three whole dried red chilis (roughly chopped)
1.1 pound chopped tomatoes
Small handful of flat leaf parsley (roughly chopped)
Salt for seasoning
(Recipe source: www.italyum.com)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.