Everything about Anna Cimollini was large — personality, voice, zest for living and all that physical stuff. She owned the Athena restaurant in Norfolk, a place kept small on purpose. “Nobody eats here alone,” she said.
Everything about Anna Cimollini was large — personality, voice, zest for living and all that physical stuff.
She owned the Athena restaurant in Norfolk, Ohio, a place kept small on purpose. For Anna, it was like her dining room at home, and all customers became instant family.
“Nobody eats here alone,” she said, pulling up a second wooden chair to my table. She then disappeared into the kitchen and soon came back with Zuppa Fredda di Pomodoro –– chilled, fresh tomato and garlic soup with lime wedges — for both of us.
After the usual niceties, Anna launched into an intimate conversation about her daughter, who was marrying a “no good, lazy goofball, bumhead. He smells like hobo gin and never will be worth a penny.” I suspected red wine might be OK, but never hobo gin.
It took 30 seconds to feel like I’d known her all of my life. In the Athena, they frown on menus. Anna did the ordering. This way, you always got the freshest food, and you often discovered something wonderful.
And so it would be that hot, lazy afternoon. Anna produced a simple platter of angel-hair pasta and sautéed prawns. The aroma was startling — fresh lemons.
“My father grew a terrace of lemon trees in Amalfi. My uncle was a shrimper. The two came together with this,” she said. “More cheese?”
We ate. Anna showed me how to slurp pasta, none of that spoon twirling routine Americans do. Buttery lemon pasta sliding between your lips is as sensual as food gets.
“You’re coming back tomorrow night,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
“We’re having the most marvelous Zuppa di Cozze.”
You bet I was there — just-caught mussels in white wine with baskets of soppressata salami, aged Motarat cheese imported from the Piedmont and crusty Italian bread, still warm.
The Athena and Anna are gone now, but not really. On a hot afternoon last week, I dusted off the memory and amazed my family.
PASTA CON GAMBERI AL LIMONE
1/2 pound angel hair pasta
16 medium-size shrimp, uncooked
1 pat butter
1 small zucchini, sliced
1/4 cup red pepper, sliced
2 tablespoons red onion, diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Shell and devein the shrimp. Brine for 1 hour in salt water to puff up. Juice and zest the lemon (remove flecks of its skin). Boil pasta until just done.
Heat olive oil and sauté vegetables. Wash shrimp, pat dry and sauté with vegetables for 2 to 3 minutes, then off heat. Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water. Add water, butter, lemon juice and zest to pasta and toss. Stir in vegetables and shrimp.
Page 2 of 2 - Serves two with cheese on side and parsley on top.
Notes: Very good as a chilled summer salad on lettuce dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp. It’s done as soon as it turns white.