Summer party season is upon us, and my clan has already attended quite a few potluck barbecues. But I'm sick of my potluck side-dish offering: penne pasta with chopped spinach, golden raisins, tomatoes, and slivered almonds. It used to get ooohs and ahhhs , but I've trotted the old warhorse out one too many times, and Eve is better than that. So I sat down with a cappuccino -- Patrick just got an espresso machine and he loves foaming milk -- and made a round of calls to the gals to see if I could drum up some better dishes for this year's potluck parade. Seems pasta dishes are the in thing this summer. "Everyone always loves my pasta salad," said Meg. "And it only takes about ten minutes to make. I cook rotini and add olive oil and a packet of Good Seasonings salad dressing. Throw in some goat cheese, chopped tomatoes, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese."
Teresa cooks bowtie pasta, "and then I drain it and throw it in a pan and sauté it with olive oil, leftover baked chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, roasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. It can be served cold, but it's better served warm."
The topic got her musing and she suggested another favorite. "Another dish I make: sauté butter, garlic, and julienne carrots. You sauté them on medium-high, so the carrots get browned and caramelized. It is delicious."
Sarah favors a tortellini variety of pasta salad. "I buy the two-pack of tortellini pasta and the pesto sauce from Costco," she explained. "They sell it in the refrigerated section. Boil the pasta, run under water until room temp, and then mix in the pesto, some salt, and shredded Parmesan. It serves quite a lot of people, and it's a crowd favorite."
I had to limit Nancy, an inveterate foodie, to two recipes. "I have a million of them," she laughed. "An easy dish is the fresh corn salad from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook. You shuck and remove kernels from corn. Blanch the corn in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Remove and mix with chopped red onions, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and kosher salt. Julienne basil strips and serve room temp."
Can you use frozen or canned corn?
"Oh, bad Eve, bad Eve. No way," she remarked. "Only fresh."
Nancy's other dish involved shellfish. "It is my own rendition of a dish I once tasted which I loved," she said. "It's a barley salad. You cook the barley in water, or sometimes I use half water and half white wine. After 50 minutes of cooking, I add shrimp tails, and after another five minutes, add the shrimp. Then mix in a lot of olive oil, Parmesan, chopped cherry tomatoes, and garnish with basil. Hmmm, hmmm," she mused, "it's so good."
Erica offered a finger-food idea. "I make tortilla wraps," she explained. "You mix softened cream cheese with Hidden Valley Ranch Dip Mix and then spread it over a flour tortilla. Roll up the tortilla and slice. It's like a fancy wrap, good for while people are waiting for the meat to come off the barbecue."
Bernice, always one with a superb idea, suggested a four-bean casserole. "My dad always called beans the musical fruit, referring to what it did to his digestion, but this dish is too good to pass up. To fill a Crock-Pot for a party, double this recipe. Brown ten slices of bacon and crumble. Chop and sauté three onions. Mince two cloves of garlic and also sauté. Add a half-cup of brown sugar and quarter-cup distilled white vinegar. Use one can of Dennison's lima beans with ham pieces, one can butter beans, one can kidney beans, and one can B&M baked beans. Drain all the beans first. Heat all this in a Crock-Pot on low for two hours."
Then there was the fruit idea from Serena. "Well, when I go to potlucks, I notice people often bring store-bought food, and it often sits there untouched. My latest kick is to bring fresh pineapple. It takes some time to slice it, so people don't always buy it themselves to eat. But slicing a pineapple is a heck of a lot easier than making potato salad. And if the fruit is sliced, people will eat it."
"I've never been to a potluck that had too many veggie dishes," stated Molly, "so I usually prepare a roasted vegetable. I roast cauliflower until its browned and then sprinkle with toasted almonds as a garnish. I've done green beans, red onions, broccoli, or asparagus, always with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Some balsamic vinegar, lemon, garlic, and thyme can also be added. They taste delicious hot, warm, or room temperature, so it's an easy dish for a potluck."