It’s fun getting together with friends during the summer for backyard barbecues, pool parties and picnics in the park. But it can also get expensive when you’re trying to feed a lot of people, even if it’s a potluck and you’re just taking a dish or two.
That’s why it’s good to have a few simple and inexpensive recipes in your back pocket that you can turn to when it’s time to feed the masses. (After all, this can add up. Make sure you budget for barbecues and other hidden summer expenses.)
I’ve been making one of my favorite summer go-to recipes for at least 20 years because it hits all the necessary requirements for summer party food.
- It’s easy
- It’s portable
- It doesn’t require heating and can safely hold without refrigeration for a couple hours
- It’s cheap — less than 50 cents per serving
- You can easily make a boatload of it
What is it? Penne with roasted jalapeno pesto and the recipe serves 15 to 20 people as a side dish. You can call it Firecracker Penne if you’re making it for the Fourth of July. If you love spice, you can set your mouth on fire with this stuff. Of course, you can also dial back the heat. Here's how to do both.
- 20 large, fresh jalapeno peppers (spicy) or 6 Anaheim peppers (mild)*
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 16-ounce packages of dried penne (or rigatoni)
- 1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
- fresh parmesan curls
You’ll also need a brown paper bag.
*Spice note: If you want spicy pesto, use just the jalapenos. If you want a mild pesto, use the Anaheims. Somewhere in the middle? Substitute one Anaheim for every three or four jalapenos. If you want an inferno spice level, go ahead and add some ghost chiles. If you're picking these up from local farmers, make sure you read this guide on how to save at farmer's markets.
Roast the peppers slowly over an open flame of a gas burner, rotating slowly with metal tongs until the skin is blackened. Place peppers inside the brown paper bag as you finish roasting each one. Seal the bag to allow the peppers to steam. Once you’ve roasted the last pepper, allow them rest in the bag for about 20 minutes or until they are cool enough to handle. Once they are, remove them from the bag and peel each, ensuring you remove the stems and seeds.
Wash your hands, thoroughly. Seriously, if you were to touch your eye right now you’d be crying for the rest of the day. Go wash your hands. Twice. Three times.
Done? OK, now you place the peeled peppers into a food processor along with the grated parmesan and salt. Pulse until your form a paste. Then process and drizzle in the olive oil until everything is smooth. Set aside.
Now it’s time to cook your pasta, so put a big pot of water on to boil and be sure to salt your water (it should be very salty, almost like sea water). Cook your pasta according to the directions on the package. And if you don’t have a really big pot, go ahead and divide it into two or three batches. Once it’s cooked, drain the pasta and rinse it with cold water.
Grab your pesto mix and toss it with your freshly cooked pasta. If you’re ready to serve it up now, go ahead and garnish it with your parsley and parmesan curls. If not, pop it in the refrigerator to keep it cool until you’re ready to serve (it will hold well for a day or so).
Looking for something to pair with your pasta side? Check out this $1.50 burger, which is sure to wow your barbecue guests.