By Mary Ann Ebner
There’s something organic about bring-a-dish gatherings with few rules that pull people together for musings on more than food. We all know someone who cringes at the mention of a potluck. He or she may avoid edible uncertainty, but that’s part of the point. Bringing something you love can spark fresh perspectives for companions.
The starting point, at a minimum, should be a dish that can be served on a plate and eaten with basic utensils. Even without rules, it’s unlikely everyone will bring their signature dessert, but worse things can happen besides a table loaded with sweets. There’s usually a taste or two for everyone, with a range of gluten-free, vegan and carnivorous recipes.
Years ago, when I worked at a campus radio station, it was announced that the year-end party would be a potluck. The general manager and engineer were full-time employees, but the rest of us were students with limited cash flow. We spent little time or money on cooking, and when we dined out it was usually at the Stagger Inn over pitchers of beer and platters of potato skins. That was high-end nutrition compared to the microwavable sandwiches peddled from campus vending machines.
As potluck day rolled around, our lack of money and cooking experience didn’t stop us from covering a couple of desks with an assortment of contributions. At least three salads turned up, along with a fruit pie that was probably stocked from the freezer section, although its creator chose not to say.
The fruit pie was popular, but the most sampled dish was a bowl of blackberry Jell-O. It wasn’t spiked (or so we were told) or topped with whipped cream but represented the willingness to take part without making a fuss over ingredients and temperatures.
Shared meals not only spread the work around but bring communities together — the best payoff. Fresh spinach is a reliable crowd pleaser and does its work in simple or lavish recipes. This variation of spanakopita is essentially spinach pie made with phyllo sheets, which are easy to use but require quick work to prevent them from becoming brittle. If you find a few triangles left over, wrap them up. They’ll taste even better the next day.
Potluck Spinach Pie
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 small red onion, chopped
3 to 4 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup roasted sunflower kernels
20 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Lightly beat eggs with fork in mixing bowl, stir in ricotta and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sauté onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add to ricotta mixture.
Cook trimmed spinach in remaining olive oil until leaves wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Remove spinach from pan, drain and chop. Stir into ricotta mixture along with fresh parsley.
After all other ingredients are prepped, unroll phyllo sheets and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel during assembly. Butter large baking pan and layer two sheets of phyllo dough over bottom of pan. Brush layer with butter and sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Repeat with three more layers. Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture over the top layer. Sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Cover with phyllo layer, brush with butter, sprinkle with sunflower seeds and repeat to use remainder of sheets. Brush top layer with butter. Using a serrated knife, cut into squares, then into triangles. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.