I used to love throwing dinner parties, but after I had my daughter that type of entertaining seemed not just daunting, but also impossible. Because I couldn’t eat at restaurants as much as I used to, I felt that my social life was starting to fall apart. That’s when I remembered potlucks, one of my family's favorite ways to gather.
I wrote the new cookbook Modern Potluck to give people updated, foolproof, crowd-pleasing recipes that will hold up on the buffet table and are also just a little bit impressive. Needless to say, I’ve thought a lot about what makes a dish potluck-worthy. Here are some of the rules I swear by:
1. A GREAT POTLUCK DISH WILL HOLD UP ON A BUFFET TABLE. Anything that needs to be served hot but can’t be kept hot without overcooking—steaks (unless you want them at room temperature, of course) and many fish dishes, for example—is best saved for your intimate dinner party. Similarly, stick with sturdier salads rather than those made with lots of delicate greens, which wilt quickly.
2. IT HAS THREE COMPONENTS, MAX. Potlucks are the time for fun, unfussy dishes. It’s fine to bring along an extra dressing, sauce, or garnish to be added at the table, but try to keep the extras to one or two.
3. IT’S CROWD PLEASING WITH JUST A HINT OF EDGE. My mom used to tell me to bring fairly bland dishes to parties because not everyone likes spicy or overtly seasoned food. Thankfully, people now enjoy lots of different flavors. Nevertheless, a potluck with people you don’t know well might not be the time to bring that tripe recipe you’ve always wanted to try.
4. THINK ABOUT HOW YOU’LL TRANSPORT YOUR FOOD. If the dish is not easy to carry itself, place it in a box. For an investment of about $20, you can buy an insulated casserole carrier. Alternatively, you can wrap your hot or cold dish in newspaper, a natural insulator, and then a few blankets.
5. BRING SERVING UTENSILS. To make the host’s life easier, bring a knife for your cake or pie, tongs or spoons for your salad, and so on. Extra credit goes to guests who bring their dishes in the vessels that are also used for serving.
This is one of my favorite recipes for summer potlucks:
vegetarian; gluten-free (except the toasts for serving) / serves 8 to 16
The whipped ricotta can be refrigerated overnight. The assembled dish can be refrigerated for about 2 hours. Serve lightly chilled or at room temperature; it can stand at room temperature for about 90 minutes.
2 pounds fresh whole-milk ricotta (about 4 cups)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ cup mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, basil, mint, and/or tarragon
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds mixed ripe heirloom tomatoes, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 6 cups; cherry tomatoes can be halved or quartered)
toasts or flatbread, for serving (optional)
1. Chill a medium platter or large shallow serving bowl for at least 30 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, beat the ricotta with ¼ cup of the olive oil until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Fold in half of the herbs and season generously with salt and pepper.
3. In another bowl, gently stir the tomatoes with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the remaining herbs, season with salt and pepper, and stir again.
4. Spoon the whipped ricotta into the prepared platter or bowl, making a shallow well in the center. Spoon the tomatoes into the well, drizzle with a little more olive oil, and serve with toasts or flatbread.
Reprinted from Modern Potluck: Beautiful Food to Share. Copyright © 2016 by Kristin Donnelly. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Yossy Arefi. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.