Our clever friend Fran Black recently told us about her brilliant innovation of the traditional pot-luck dinner party model where guests are asked to bring a dish to forge an entire meal:

I have a recurring dream that I find the food photos in cookbooks I love are real; I just turn the pages and feast.

This New Year’s Eve I decided to make my dream come true and devised a variation of the “pot-luck”: I invited each of my guests to make a recipe from my favorite Sicilian cookbook, Sicilian Home Cooking: Family recipes from Gangivecchio.

Among my loosely connected group of thirty or so friends, it is customary to contribute a dish to our many social gatherings. But providing themed recipes was a first. There were a few grumbles but they knew me well enough to laugh when I countered:

“Attendance at the party is not compulsory but a dish from the book is”.


Everyone rose to the occasion. Eleven dishes from the book festooned the table, from Caponata and Torta de Gorgonzola e Pere, to Patate Siciliane alla Pizzaiola and Tagliatelli con Pomodorini, Cozze e Caperi (full menu below).

The feast that resulted was superb, —not one dud— and, my home among Sydney, Australia’s Northern beaches suddenly felt like Sicily. Everyone agreed that it was the best New Year’s Eve ever.

And they all are clamoring for a re-run with exactly the same menu.

For me it is done and dusted. I’d rather devise something new. 

YES!! We can imagine wonderful parties that could be built around any number of cookbooks, providing a deep dive into the book but also, often, bringing a culture or restaurant or chef’s brilliance right in as well…

…like the great Cuban Table



…or Aglaia Kremezi’s lovely Mediterranean Vegetarian Cookbook



A daring pot-luck dinner could be made of Scraps, Wilt and Weeds, Mads Refslund’s cookbook about turning ordinarily wasted foods into delicious dishes….



…the possibilities are endless for this break-from-the-norm pot-luck that preserves the great benefits of the tradition: the work is shared so the host can relax; many more dishes and tastes than usual can be enjoyed.

With a cookbook-themed pot-luck, each cook gets to make a private exploration via the recipe they are contributing. Guests enjoy a unified menu driven by a culture, a chef, a vision..


Practical note: There are a universe of cookbooks to choose from, both vintage and cutting edge. Just think of one you’d love to explore.

It’s not necessary for each contributor to get the book; Fran simply scanned and emailed recipes to be made. Or a choice of recipes can be offered from appetizers, main courses, side dishes, desserts so guests to decided which they prefer to make.


Here are the Gangivecchio dishes that made Fran’s smash-hit pot-luck:

Insalate di Melone e Prosciutto /  melon and prosciutto

Insalate di Funghi / mushroom salad

Caponata / eggplant appetizer with onions, tomatoes, olives, capers                

Torta di Gorgonzola e pere / Pear and Gorgonzola tart

Melon con Aceto Balsamico e Menta  / melon with balsamic and mint

Il Pane del Re / King’s bread

Patate Siciliane alla Pizzaiola / sicilian potato pizza

Quadrettoni di Frittata con Spinaci e Formaggio / spinach and cheese frittata squares

Uova Ripiene di Tonno e Capperi / eggs stuffed with tuna and capers

Gemelli alla Zingara / gemelli pasta with lentils

Tagliatelli con Pomodorini, Cozze e Caperi  / tagliatelli with mussels and capers

In addition: Eggplant Parmigiana

Desserts included Cannolis, Ricotta Cheese Cake and Tiramisu

Fran Black and friends with Sicilian pot luck

Thanks Fran!

Top photo by Helen Rosner for Eater

If you’ve found illumination, joy, or inspiration in this post, please consider supporting Improvised Life. It only takes a minute to make a secure donation that helps pay our many costs. A little goes a long way towards helping Improvised Life continue to live ad-free in the world.

Support Improvised Life ♥

5 replies on “Ease and Many Pleasures in a Cookbook Pot-Luck

  1. This has been a tradition for a circle of my friends since 2012. We started with favorite cookbooks and now new cookbooks or blogs. We have traveled through memories associated w old favorites and traveled the world through our choices. Tomorrow we gather and will explore Milk Street and catch up on everyone’s latest news. Can’t rememb a bad meal. So my advice is to give it a go!

  2. Love that: “We have traveled through memories associated w old favorites and traveled the world through our choices.”
    Thank you!

  3. Sally — I love this idea and am definitely going to riff on it for one of our many dinner parties. However, I’m also thinking it could be a fun way to bring a band of friends together again for a reunion of “La Pomodorata,” a summer tomato feast I hosted for many years on Ferragosto (August 15) — cooking all the courses by myself. This seems far more equitable and adventurous.

    Stay tuned…

  4. Fran & John were the perfect hosts for our Sicilian NYE celebration! What a great way to start off 2018! Cheers, Sally Kling

  5. THAT is an inspired idea. Let those old friends step up with their own tomato interpretations/creations… “Are more equitable and adventurous!” A swell way to bring them all together again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *