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Potluck : Bread Bowls: The Dishless Dish

TIMES FOOD MANAGING EDITOR

When I was growing up, almost every serving dish in our house had a little sticker on it with our family surname. This assured its return if my mother overlooked retrieving it, or when someone else took home what was left after a potluck.

Between church functions, family gatherings and my mother’s social group meetings, we saw a lot of potlucks. Over the years I came to realize that Mrs. Kransky always brought corn fritters, Aunt Irene could be counted on for her graham cracker pie, and Cousin Mildred showed up with a bottle of homemade pickles in addition to whatever else she toted to the event. None of this food was haute cuisine--it was just good old-fashioned Midwestern cooking.

These fond memories and the practicality of sharing the labor to put a meal together make me a strong advocate of the potluck concept. Only once in my experience--when the hostess didn’t ask ahead of time what people were bringing--do I remember ending up with a rather lopsided assortment of foods. Someone rushed to a local take-out deli for what was needed to round out the meal.

To me, the ultimate potluck dish is one that doesn’t require dragging anything back home. You can accomplish this by using disposable dishes and pans, but another answer is to hollow out a loaf of bread and use it as an edible carrier.

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As long as the contents aren’t so liquid that they soak through, just about anything can be packed into these bread “bowls”: fried chicken, an assortment of cheeses or crudites with an accompanying dip. You can also layer foods in the bread to create something comparable to an Italian torta rustica.

The sandwich photographed is made with one-quarter pound of mortadella, one-quarter pound of prosciutto, one-quarter pound of provolone, sun-dried tomatoes in oil, goat cheese, basil leaves, roasted sweet red peppers and pepperoncini. Use these or adjust the ingredients to suit personal preference.

Slice a good-sized oblong loaf of crusty bread in half horizontally (Step 1). Remove the soft center of the bread with your fingers (Step 2), leaving about a half-inch shell.

Saute a clove of minced garlic in a little olive oil and use the mixture to brush the inside of both bread halves (Step 3). This not only adds flavor but helps prevent the bread from getting soggy.

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Line the bottom half of the bread with a layer of mortadella and place drained sun-dried tomatoes over the top. Next crumble on goat cheese, then add layers of basil leaves, prosciutto (Step 4) and provolone. Repeat these layers until the ingredients are well mounded above the bread.

Top the final layer of provolone with alternating pieces of roasted sweet red peppers and stemmed pepperoncini before covering with the upper half of the bread (Step 5). Press down firmly to compact the layers, then wrap the sandwich securely in foil or plastic wrap and, if not transporting immediately, refrigerate.

At the potluck simply cut the sandwich diagonally into 1- to 1 1/2-inch slices (Step 6) before serving. If the event is outdoors and you’re not sure a knife will be available, slice the sandwich and rewrap it just before leaving home.


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