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PARTY LINE : Take My Penne, Please


Comic Relief is no laughing matter for Tommy Tang. As caterer of the annual telethon for the homeless, which has raised more than $20 million since its inception, the L.A. restaurateur and his staff spent endless hours peeling, chopping and stir-frying to produce all those spicy tuna rolls, sushi, scallops and Thai pizzas and pastas for the guests.

"There were so many people and so much space to cover that we all had to wear head sets to communicate," says Tang. "You'd have thought we had gone to war."

The battle wasn't over when this year's five-hour showcase of standup comedians hosted by Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams at the Shrine Auditorium came to a close. HBO, the show's sponsor, invited another 2,000 guests to stay for a buffet.

"The first year I fed about 100 people," says Tang, "but it just grew and grew and grew."

The cast of comedians included Alan King, Carl Reiner, Garry Shandling, Paul Rodriguez, Kirstie Alley, John Laroquette, Paula Poundstone and Brett Butler.

Even though the event is underwritten, Tang's biggest challenge is keeping down food costs. He knows how many will attend, and never makes more than needed. "After all," he says, "it's to raise money for the homeless. You just can't go overboard or serve caviar and champagne and stuff like that."

By the end of the evening, all 400 pounds of this spicy Santa Fe Chil e Pasta disappeared. "It's comfort food," says Tang, "and they loved it."


3/4 pound penne or other short, tubular pasta

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons roasted chile paste

1 cup coconut milk

1 1/2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce

1 cup whipping cream

4 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and cut into 1/4-inch strips

4 sprigs fresh basil, optional

Cook pasta in abundant boiling salted water with vegetable oil until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat olive oil in heavy saucepan over high heat. Add onion and garlic and stir until lightly brown, about 2 minutes. Add chili powder and chile paste and stir 1 minute. Add coconut milk and fish sauce and bring to boil. Add cream and return to boil.

Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, stirring. Increase heat to medium, add cooked pasta and stir until well coated with sauce. Transfer to platter and top with sun-dried tomatoes. Garnish with basil and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

787 calories; 476 mg sodium; 82 mg cholesterol; 50 grams fat; 73 grams carbohydrates; 14 grams protein; 2.6 grams fiber.

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