Potluck Parties: Parkside Picnic Dinner

EVENT: Our Beloved Neighborhood Green Space Returns
VENUE: Washington Square Park
TYPE: Potluck Picnic Dinner
MENU: Pomodoro Fresco Pasta Salad; Zucchini Quinoa Salad (Sophie); Fussili with Chipotle Mexican Meatballs (Steph); Baguette and Cheese (Keith); Ben and Jerry’s on Ice (Ed)

Come summertime in New York, when you don’t have the luxury of sitting back on your white porch and watching the traffic go by, and your rental does not come with a terrace or roof deck on which to plant an illegal gas grill, the natural solution is to take your intimate, at-home dinner public. That is, to the park.

Those of us who live in the greater NYU area have been without suitable green space for some time now. While there are playgrounds a plenty, and Union Square is just around the corner, neither are places you really want lay your towel down for fear of cooties or pummelling by a wayward farmers’ market vegetable. So when the redone Washington Square Park opened its doors once again to 80-year-old Chess players, college acapella singers, and weirdos from across the West Village, my friend Sophie suggested a neighborhood picnic to those of us who just might just fall into the latter population.

Wednesday evening we gathered on a large blanket and took in the new scenery. The park renovation was worth the wait, and though the vibe had lost a little of its historical grit, it was still a worthy location to sip wine, listen to bongo drums, and cringe at the occasional pedestrian taking a full fledged dip in the fountain.

In addition to the screw-top wine (courtesy of Rodrigo), Keith graced the picnic blanket with the requisite selection of bread and cheese, while we ladies provided a trio of easily portable carb-based salads which we served on paper plates using a small garden trowel from Sophie’s apartment. It was an eclectic offering in the best sense: Sophie’s quinoa was pilfered from a weekend visit to her parents’ house; Steph’s Chipotle Mexican meatballs were no longer balls by the time she reached Sophie’s, causing some last minute improvisation, and one very delicious smoky pasta sauce; my pasta was also a product of my mother’s kitchen, carrying with it plenty of summertime nostalgia from nights in a city park not too far uptown.

For dessert, Ed brought two varieties of Ben and Jerry’s (on a block of ice). It was a bold move given the 90 degree weather, but the black raspberry chocolate managed to hold its swirl long enough for us to be suitably refreshed without the comfort of indoor A/C or a trip in the fountain.

From my kitchen, where park-side dinners refresh the New York City soul, to yours,



Pomodoro Fresco Pasta Salad
Makes 4-6 servings

1¾ lbs plum tomatoes (about 4 large), finely diced
2 cloves garlic, pushed through a press
1 tsp salt
½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp white sugar
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup basil leaves, chopped
1lb penne rigate

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients. Allow to sit for up to an hour so the tomatoes have time to marinate and absorb all the added flavor.

NOTE: this can be done up to a day in advance.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Cook the pasta according to package direction until al dente. Drain and add to the bowl with the tomato mixture.

Toss the hot pasta with the tomatoes and chopped basil.

Best if served room temperature. Preferably, on a picnic blanket.

Posted in: Potluck Parties
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