Have a potluck, because friends dont let friends cook alone

Potluck Shabbat dinners have become increasingly popular as a means to draw congregants and newcomers together for an evening of worship and camaraderie. More than likely they are vegetarian meals to accommodate all food preferences. Potlucks are a wonderful way to entertain informally without the workload for many occasions such as a Labor Day picnic, chanukat bayit (home dedication) or a casual get-together. Assign each guest a course (appetizer, salad, main and dessert) and from dips to dessert the menu will reflect each participant’s culinary best.

Historically, potlucks were originally held in the summer, when farmers would help each other making hay, raising barns and getting in the harvest. The farmers would work outside all day while the women worked inside preparing their favorite covered dishes. This ritual evolved into a cold-weather tradition when friends and family united for a big feast after meetings, ball games and other events. No matter what the season, the potluck is still used as a means of sharing good food and friendship. Since everyone contributes, potluck suppers give each person a feeling of really being part of the party.

Baked Penne Pasta with Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomatoes | Serves 8

3 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes, drained
1 14.5-oz. can ready-cut tomatoes
1 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
8 oz. penne pasta
8 oz. ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh Italian parsley
Additional grated Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for 4 minutes or until starting to brown. Add garlic and sun-dried tomatoes; saute 3 more minutes. Add tomatoes, paprika, salt and pepper.

Stir sauce well, reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for 7 minutes or until tender and still a bit firm. Drain and toss with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine ricotta, pasta and sauce; mix gently to combine. Pour into a medium-sized baking dish and top with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned. Serve garnished with chopped parsley and additional Parmesan cheese.

Very Berry Crisp | Serves 8 to 10

1 cup flour
1/2 cup tightly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1 cup quick cooking oats
1 pint strawberries
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a shallow 2-quart casserole or 10-inch ovenproof pie pan.

In medium mixing bowl combine flour, sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Mix in the oats. Spread berries in prepared baking dish and sprinkle topping over berries. Bake until topping is browned and berries are bubbly, about 40 minutes. Serve at room temperature with ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].