Monday, May 14, 2012

Party Dishing

For anyone connected to any level of primary school, mid-May is about the time that the long parade of end-of-the-year events kicks in. Lunches, potlucks and celebrations abound, and most of them require a food contribution. Even if you aren’t on a school schedule, the warmer days mean block parties and BBQs. There’s a sense of waking up from some kind of social hibernation, even with a mild winter like ours.

So for the past few weeks I have found myself frequently in need of a dish to bring somewhere. Maybe you do too? Here’s what I’ve been bringing lately

Savory Tart

If you keep puff pastry in your freezer, making a fast savory tart is simple, and always big on the “ooh, aah” factor. Puff pastry isn’t scary. Really. Here’s what to do:

  • Defrost it in the fridge overnight
  • Roll it out to the desired size (depending on your serving dish)
  • Dock it (which means poke a lot of holes in it with a fork to inhibit the rising)
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees until lightly browned
  • Add toppings, return to the oven and bake until bubbly, another 10-15 minutes.

You can get your toppings ready while the pastry is in the first bake. My most recent creation involved carmelized onions, shaved asparagus, and manchego, but the sky’s the limit. Olives, feta and basil? Chives, smoked salmon and mascarpone? Let what’s in your fridge or pantry dictate.

Wilted Spinach Salad

I love making this “salad” where the spinach gets partially cooked. Baby spinach is best here, since you don’t have to do much cleaning or trimming, but it’s good to take off the large stems. As an aside, the best way to clean gritty greens is to let them soak for about 10 minutes in a large amount of cold water. The water loosens the grit and it falls to the bottom of the bowl. Lift the greens out, leaving the water and grit behind, and dry in a towel or spinner.

6 oz baby spinach
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup golden raisins
4 T. olive oil
1 1/2 T. balsamic vinegar
½ t. salt and a few grinds of black pepper to taste

Check spinach for big stems and grit; clean if necessary. Put spinach in your serving bowl, pour balsamic vinegar on top and combine.

Put olive oil, nuts, raisins, salt and pepper into a pan. Gently heat until the nuts are toasted and the raisins plump up, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and immediately pour oil mixture over the spinach. Toss to ensure the hot oil is distributed. Taste and adjust seasonings. Best served within one hour.


Dips are always easy party food. I have a few recipes that involve pantry items, so that I can usually scare one up without a trip to the store. Tapenade, which is a Mediterranean olive relish typically made with anchovies and capers, is very adaptable. This version, made with dried figs, comes from my mother.

1 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 cup dried figs (about 6 extra large Turkish figs)
1 clove garlic
2 T. red wine vinegar
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
black pepper to taste
optional: ¼ cup fresh herbs, like parsley or oregano, and 1 T. fresh rosemary
Cut figs in half and put in the food processor. Process until the pieces are small. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until the tapenade is finely chunked but not yet a smooth paste. Taste and adjust seasonings.