Food + Friends: A Story and Recipe

It’s Friday in Brooklyn, and the rains falls gently outside, offering relief from the hot and sticky weather that we have come to expect from New York in the summer. I’m having a few friends over today, to share lunch and laughs. For me, eating and laughing are inextricably linked, and I know today will be no different.

As the bells from the nearby church toll, signalling the time for lunch, my guests arrive and I feel an instant joy. Entertaining in small groups, in my home, has always been a very special experience for me. Having people around my dining table is my ultimate expression of trust and friendship.

Cooking for them is how I show them I care.

Today, my friends bring to the table many different cultures, backgrounds and experiences. Many of them have never met. But as I bring food to the table and pour honeydew soda, I hear chatter and laughter, animated voices of people getting to know one another. Even for me, they are all ‘new’ friends. I have known each of them for only a year, but already they are important pieces in the puzzle of my life.

Over lunch, we talk creative pursuits, the obstacles of being an entrepreneur, the challenges of being a freelancer, and the juggle of family and life. We give one another advice and ideas. We provide support and enthusiasm. And while we banter and pass plates of salads around the table, we also ponder the meaning of community. I ask them, what does community mean to you? For them, community is: warmth, reliance, sharing, inspiration, helping, accepting, belonging, friendship, truth, trust and home.

When I think about their responses and look around my table, I realise something significant. Community cannot be imitated or forged. It is more than a buzzword in a marketing spiel, or a declaration on a social media profile. Community actually cannot exist by just talking about it; it needs to be lived and experienced. We all express community in different ways – for me, it is in sharing food – but ultimately, real community relies on a support system of genuine, unconditional sharing and open-ness that is not one-sided.

Community is both give and take, and you get back what you give.

Today, I might be the one giving food and sustenance but, with the friendship and inspiration I see around the table, I am definitely the one receiving.

Green market plate, with green olive tapenade

This is a true seasonal dish. The plated ingredients I’ve listed are suggestions only – I encourage you to use whatever vegetables are in season, wherever you are in the world. Since it is spring in New York, I visited Union Square Greenmarket and picked out my favourite seasonal greens. You could also use capsicum, sugar snap peas, snow peas, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and more.

Serves 4-6

500g baby potatoes, peeled and halved
500g baby round eggplant, halved
1 bunch asparagus, woody stem removed
150g shishito peppers
4 purple spring onions, trimmed
3 zucchini, cut into 5mm slices
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch breakfast radish, trimmed and larger ones halved
2 cups salad leaves (lettuce, rocket, spinach etc)
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

Green olive tapenade

500g green olives (whichever variety you like), pitted
¼ cup capers, drained
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and black pepper

To make the tapenade, roughly chop the olives and capers and place in a medium bowl. Add the garlic, parsley and lemon zest. Drizzle in olive oil and squeeze in lemon juice. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Tapenade can be made 1 week ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Add the potatoes and boil until just tender. Drain and allow to cool.

Heat a barbecue, grill or frypan until hot. Add the baby eggplant and barbecue on each side until charred and tender. Set aside. Add the asparagus spears, and barbecue for just 1-2 minutes, until just tender but still bright green and with crunch. Set aside. Next, do the same with the shishito peppers and spring onions. Grill the zucchini slices until golden on both sides and season everything with some sea salt and black pepper.

Take a large platter and arrange the leaves all over it. Arrange the radishes, tomatoes, potatoes and the grilled vegetables around the platter, and spoon a few tablespoons of the olive tapenade over all the vegetables. Serve with the extra olive tapenade on the side.

Hetty McKinnon is the author of salad cookbook Community and the Founder of Arthur Street Kitchen. Hetty is from Sydney but is now slinging salads in Brooklyn, New York. Her second book, Neighbourhood (Plum Books / Pan Macmillan Australia) will be released on 1 September.