The “Potluck”, however imbued with lofty, thrifty intentions, still too often results in an incongruous array of dishes that look and taste as if they were cooked in six different kitchens. Well, that is probably because they were cooked in six different kitchens. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. When a dish originates from one of six kitchens there is a chance it will be surprising and unforgettable; there is also a chance (six times greater, to be precise) that an expired egg was thrown in, or that a stray child sneezed over the cutting board.
Perhaps I am too negative. What was needed was a simple alternative to a dinner party for 6 – 8 that didn’t require the host to spend all day in the kitchen preparing. Among my group of friends here in Berlin are many, many good, even great cooks. Bred by the Nonnas of Southern Italy and the Patisseries of Paris, these are friends anyone would be delighted to invite to their “potluck” dinner.
What we came up with instead, which has already been going on for about a month now (excuse the delay in reportage), is Fresh Fridays. Fresh Fridays, which often happens on Saturdays, is a theme dinner to which each guest must bring a dish involving the “secret ingredient”. The “secret ingredient” is officially pre-determined by the (rotating) host, but unofficially debated and decided in advance to a sometimes exhaustive extent. A winner is determined at the end of the dinner, either by secret ballot or by candid, verbal vote, depending on how much wine and schnapps has been consumed.
Let me give you a short recap.
Fresh Fridays #1, hosted by me, secret ingredient: Beans.
Now, beans, you may say, are rather heavy to be involved in every dish in one meal. This is true, but the four guests were encouraged to think creatively. The results were fine and diverse.
First: Mexican black bean soup with cumin spiced sour cream
Second: Woodsman Pasta: Tagliatelle with bacon, green peas, mushrooms and parmesan
Third: Fresh seared tuna with garlic, white pinto beans and raisins in white wine sauce
Dessert: Green tea cake with sweet adzuki bean paste
Winner: black bean soup
Fresh Fridays #2, hosted by Benoit, secret ingredient: Almonds.
I’ll tell you, if you thought beans were heavy, try eating five courses of almonds…
First: Cold almond garlic soup with garnish of green grapes
Second: Baked Moroccan-spiced chicken with almonds and dried fruit in a crisp filo dough dusted with powdered sugar
Third: Almond butter vegetable curry with basmati rice
Fourth: Sautéed chicken legs with almond cream sauce
Dessert: Almond macarons with white chocolate pear filling (yes, she is French!)
Winner: this was a toss up, but in the end I proclaim the baked Moroccan dish to be the victor
Fresh Fridays #3, hosted by Emanuele and Babeth, secret ingredient: Cheese
Ok, we never in a million years would have chosen cheese after the digestively-challenging dinners of the previous two weeks. This actually just sort of… happened. And in the end, it wasn’t too much, in fact.
First: Zucchini and mozzarella pizze on fresh clay-oven Turkish flatbread (from Tandur Lasan, tiny hole-in-the wall on Kotbusser Damm)
Second: Pasta Carbonara topped with parmesan
Third: Parsnip gruyere gratin
Winner: Tiramisu. It was a more soupy version, but excellent in flavor and texture
Fresh Friday #4, hosted by Mino, secret ingredient: Fish
Despite the many, many rounds of eating this dinner involved (including a schnapps break), the astounding nature of the fish allowed it to remain relatively light.
First: Salmon tartare, one with mango, the other with clementine and sun-dried tomato
Second: Crostini, one with butter and smoked salmon, the other with caviar (of dubious origin!)
Third: Cod and zucchini baked filo dough pockets
Fourth: Pasta alle Vongole (mussels)
Fifth: Baked whole dorado with lemon and olive oil
(break for schnapps)
Sixth: Sautéed calamari with potatoes and fresh herbs
Dessert: Haribou “frutti di mare” sushi on coconut rice
Winner: Cod and zucchini filo pockets (I still dream about these and promise to get the recipe!)
More to come…