The other night I went to an after-work, all-girl pot luck dinner. It was all-girl because we met during a food writing course I took not too long ago, and the one guy who joined dropped out before the halfway point. Those of us who remained discovered that we really enjoyed each other’s company, so for our last class we decided to give in to our foodie nature and go out, to Stanton Social. We ate about a million different things—it’s that kind of place, a huge menu of plates meant for sharing—drank too much wine, and had a blast. At the end of the evening, the group became a little misty and nostalgic at the thought of never hanging out again, so we decided to schedule a pot luck dinner. Eight food-oriented women, each bringing her own specialty…
Roasted eggplant spread, adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, and a baguette so crusty my arm ached after slicing it.
Our gracious and thoughtful hostess, D, provided:
This gorgeous baked brie, topped with chopped pecans and brown sugar. It’s a good thing I don’t like cheese, because from the looks of this concoction I would definitely have eaten too much of it. And the aroma! D also made a beautiful fresh strawberry salsa, which featured another of my sworn edible enemies, cilantro. (In fact, we’d spent a good deal of time in class talking about cilantro. It turns out there’s a genetic factor to people’s reactions to it—one of my classmates is working on a feature about it. Apparently I inherited a gene that makes it taste like dishwater.)
M, our wickedly funny Aussie, baked a quiche from her mom’s recipe:
Yes, I know, quiche has cheese in it. But this was the most delicious, most un-cheesy quiche I’ve ever eaten. My ally in cheese-disgust, A, had the same response—she couldn’t stop raving. Really, it was more like a crusted frittata. This may have been the hit of the evening—we devoured it and wished there was more.
Next up, C’s contribution:
Stuffed mushrooms, made in D’s kitchen. They were filled with chopped stems, parsley, garlic, pecorino, and bread crumbs—the simplest preparation, and the most satisfying. I think I had four. C was starting a new job as a food publicist the next day, so I’m all the more impressed that she managed to cook something a la minute.
A, my fellow cheese-hater (and fellow publishing person), brought a spicy Thai dish:
Braised tofu and ground chicken, served over basmati rice. Yes, that’s more cilantro you see, but I successfully ate around it and really enjoyed the spicy tingle—and tofu is normally yet another of my dislikes (man, I’m a picky eater!).
G, the very stylish, very sharp baby of the group, made quite a tasty, robust casserole:
It’s an egg-and-tomato gratin, made with hard-boiled eggs, fresh tomatoes, and herbs. Sweetheart that she is, G left one end of the dish cheese-free in deference to me and A—you can just make out the solid red part at the top left.
Unfortunately, by the time J’s dessert was served I’d already put away my camera. It was intended to be a napoleon of sorts, made with layers of crisp, five-spiced phyllo and whipped cream flavored with mandarin oranges, but the cream deflated before J could assemble them. Instead, she arranged the phyllo pieces flat on a platter, and poured the pale-orange sauce over them. It was marvelous, a prime example of a kitchen disaster averted.
“But wait,” you say, “That’s only seven dishes. There are seven chicks in that picture, plus you, Debbie. What gives?” What gives is that our teacher, the one of us who’s actually making her living as a food writer, was on deadline, so she didn’t have a chance to cook. Her contribution was fresh, store-bought spanakopita, which in the procession of food we forgot to put out. It ended up being left as a hostess gift for D, which wasn’t a bad thing at all.
My eggplant spread was a big hit, but since I’d made a double-recipe there was some left over. I took it home and served it over pasta, with pasta cooking water and prepared pesto stirred in to make it saucy, then topped the whole thing with toasted pine nuts and grated parmesan cheese. It was pretty fab, I must admit. I think I’ll be roasting some more eggplant spread soon, just to eat it on pasta.
Roasted Eggplant Spread
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Serves 6 to 8
1 medium eggplant, peeled
2 red bell peppers, seeded
1 red onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 T. olive oil
1 ½ t. kosher salt
½ t. freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ T. tomato paste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray and set aside.
Cut the eggplant, bell pepper, and onion into 1-inch cubes. Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic, oil, salt, and pepper. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast for 40-45 minutes, tossing once halfway through, until vegetables are lightly browned and soft. Cool slightly.
Place the vegetables in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and the tomato paste, and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Taste for salt & pepper.