Savoring the Seasons: Potlucks serve up sense of community

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

If you read this column often, you know how much I love potluck meals. I love the random variety of food that always seems to work out, even if everyone brings something similar and the meal isn’t “balanced.” I love everyone pitching in to create food for a group of people, perhaps many of whom they don’t know. I love trying things I’ve never imagined eating and I love eating foods that I’ve eaten a million times before. I love hearing stories about the various dishes — how it is someone’s grandmother’s recipe, or something that their kids have always loved, or something they’ve never prepared but thought they’d try it out for this party and I love learning new ways to prepare locally grown food.

What I hope to taste at a potluck is all of those things and more. I’ve been to many potlucks in the past month or so, with very different groups of people, in very different places, with very different types of food. And, what I tasted at each of those potlucks was community.

Sometimes it was the community of people who’ve known each other for years, other times it was many people who had never met. Whether it was reinforcing the bonds of an ongoing community, or helping create a new community, each gathering showed the power of food to bring us together.

How are you cooking up food and community spirit for a potluck in the next month?

This week we’re eating ...

Beets, Greens, and Cheddar Crumble

From: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016159-beet-greens-and-cheddar-crumble

1 pound medium beets

3 sprigs fresh thyme branches plus ¾ tsp. fresh thyme leaves

2 garlic cloves, peeled

¼ tsp. black peppercorns

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 ¼ pounds beet greens, Swiss chard or mix of both

11 T. cold unsalted butter, more for greasing pan

1 C. all-purpose flour

2 C. milk

9 ounces sharp Cheddar, grated (2 ¼ C.)

2 to 3 T. English mustard powder, to taste

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp. Tabasco sauce, more as needed

¼ C. rolled oats

3 T. toasted hazelnuts, chopped

1 ½ tsp. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Combine beets, thyme branches, garlic, and peppercorns in large pot. Cover with cold salted water. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat; cook until beets are tender, 15 to 30 minutes depending on size. Remove with slotted spoon. Add greens and cook for 2 minutes (do this in batches, if necessary); remove with tongs and transfer immediately to bowl of ice water. Drain well. Once beets are cool enough to handle, peel them and slice crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices. Roughly chop greens’ leaves and stalks.

Prepare béchamel: In small saucepan over low heat, melt 5 T. butter. Stir in C. flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes; roux should smell cooked, but remain white. Slowly whisk in milk until mixture forms a thick, smooth sauce. Stir in 8 ounces Cheddar (2 C.) until melted. Stir in mustard powder, Worcestershire and Tabasco. Season with salt to taste.

Make crumble topping: In small bowl, stir together remaining C. flour, oats, and hazelnuts. Use your fingers to work in 6 T. butter, the remaining 1 ounce Cheddar (1/4 C) and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. It should be a mixture of large and small pieces. Season with a pinch of salt, pepper, and the nutmeg.

When ready to assemble the dish, heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a two-quart gratin or baking dish. Spread layer of béchamel on the bottom. Top with layer of beets, followed by layer of greens and stalks. Season generously with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with thyme leaves. Spread another layer of béchamel on top and repeat process to fill dish (you will end up with three or four layers). Cover entire surface with crumble topping. Transfer dish to oven and bake until bubbling and golden brown in spots, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Local food advocate and community organizer Mary McClintock lives in Conway and works as a freelance writer, editor, and book indexer. Send column suggestions and recipes to mmcclinto@yahoo.com.