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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Island Pantry
Portable food for the holidays

By Kaui Philpotts

The New-Orleans-style stuffed sandwich called a muffuletta can be a potluck-party food.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

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It would be hard to imagine a place where there is more potluck entertaining than in Hawai'i. Whether it's the beach on weekends, tailgating before a big game or a holiday potluck lunch at work, there are so many occasions that require easy, portable dishes made to please a crowd.

The holidays are a time to go beyond merely stopping for takeout. But we have to plan dishes that can sit around a bit at room temperature without spoiling, or can be assembled easily at the last moment.

When you're invited to a potluck, be sure to ask if there is a plan so that not everyone shows up with noodles or desserts. It's also a good idea to take along everything that will be needed to serve your dish. If special utensils or bowls are required, bring them along (although you might want to label them if you don't want to lose them).

One of my favorite take-along sandwiches — one that is more than just a sandwich — is a version of the classic muffuletta, a favorite street food in New Orleans, where they can debate endlessly over its proper ingredients and proportions. I first became aware of this layered, multi-faceted sandwich, which is made inside its own loaf of crusty bread, years ago when a woman representing a packaged meat company brought one to me. I remember that occasion because she insisted that the sandwich should be assembled, wrapped in plastic wrap and covered with a dish towel and then sat upon! The idea still unnerves me, and I'm not recommending you do this, but I do recommend muffulettas.

Making one requires that you buy the best crusty bread you can find, hollow it out and then fill it with layers of good-tasting meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables. You can, if you like, drizzle it with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Put the whole thing back together and wrap it up tightly. When you are ready to eat, just cut the round loaf into wedges and serve with lots of napkins.

(The true muffuletta, by definition in the Big Easy, must be spread with an ingredient called "olive salad," a chopped mixture of green olives, pimientos, celery, garlic, cocktail onions, capers, oregano, parsley, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.)

Muffuletta Picnic Bread

  • 1 large round loaf of crusty bread

For the filling:

  • 3 sweet onions, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 round eggplant, sliced and grilled
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1 zucchini, sliced on the slant and grilled
  • 1 cup arugula leaves
  • 1 or 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 1 (6 ounce) jar roasted sweet red peppers (not chilies)
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

Cut the top off the loaf of bread and with your hands, hollow out the bread in the center, leaving a shell about 1 1/2 inches thick. Use the discarded bread for making croutons or breadcrumbs.

In a frying pan, heat the olive oil and saute the onions until they are browned. Remove the onions. If you do not have a grill, you can pan-fry the eggplant and zucchini in a little oil until browned, then drain on absorbent towels. Begin layering half the onions, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, cheese, peppers and herbs. Repeat the process. Replace the top on the bread and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to transport. Cut into wedges to serve. Serves 8.

(Note: This one is vegetarian, but you may add your favorite deli meats such as smoked turkey, roast beef and pastrami as well. Sun-dried tomatoes can be substituted for fresh. Use your imagination.)

. . .

We are real suckers here in Hawai'i for fried chicken drummettes and dipping sauce. No gathering is ever without some version of this dish. The garlic chicken with soy dipping sauce here is from the newly assembled "Maikai Favorites," a compilation of recipes given out by Foodland markets in their Maikai rewards program.

Garlic Chicken with Soy Dipping Sauce

The chicken:

  • 4 pounds chicken drummettes
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup panko
  • 4 tablespoons garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 cups oil for frying

Pat the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel. In a bowl, combine the flour, panko, garlic salt and pepper. Mix well. Toss each piece of chicken in the panko mixture. In a deep skillet, heat the oil until it sizzles. Fry the chicken over medium to high heat until golden brown. Remove and keep warm.

Dipping sauce:

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 3 stalks green onion, minced

In a bowl, whisk the soy sauce, sugar and water until sugar is dissolved. Stir in ginger, garlic and onions. Set aside to rest at room temperature as you fry your chicken. Serves 6 to 8.

. . .

The pasta and pea salad adds green to the table and goes with just about anything your crowd brings along.

Pasta and Pea Salad

  • 1 pound fusilli pasta (the spiral kind)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 11/2 cups prepared pesto
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cups or more mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the fusilli for 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and place in a bowl. Toss with the olive oil and cool. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, puree the pesto, spinach and lemon juice. Add the mayonnaise and puree again. Add the mixture to the cool pasta. Next add the Parmesan cheese, peas, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Mix and season to taste. Serve at room temperature. Serves 12.

If you make portable food a lot, make sure you always have a stack of the new disposable bake-in pans made from heat-proof plastic, in which you can freeze, microwave or bake food. They are great for making dishes ahead of time and you don't have to worry about forgetting to take a treasured dish home later. You can find them near the plastic wrap in most supermarkets.

Another favorite container is the white paper box used in most Chinese restaurants for leftovers. They come in several sizes and you don't have to drag dirty dishes home.