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need ideas for authentic italian for a crowd

i have to make a large amount of some italian dish(es) for a large crowd for a school affair. the dish has to really represent italian cuisine (vs. just some pasta with something thrown in) .
i'd love some ideas.

i was thinking of the following:
Turkey meatballs and pasta
pasta with italian sausage and greens
baked ziti
proscutto and melon (wrapped)
chicken Cacciatore - with chicken thighs
fusili with shrimp and arugula

and just how hard to make (espec. in quantity) are rice balls?


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  1. If you are making "authentic" Italian food it would tend to be seasonal, so that would eliminate basil pesto and proscuitto with melon (that proscuitto would get expensive for a crowd.) Neither turkey meatballs nor baked ziti are very Italian, more Italian-American. Chicken thighs could be great, the fusili strikes me as a summer dish. I'll take a look through me Italian cook books and see what looks good.

    2 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      I thought southern italy had baked pasta?

      1. re: flies

        Well, they do, but once a dish becomes something that is served in school cafeterias it just seems to me its hard to call it authentic Italian anymore. Most of the Italian dishes that have become an everyday food for us Americans came from the south because it was the poor southerners who jumped on the boat and came here for a better life.

    2. Authentic lasagna alla Bolognese is great to feed a crowd - it can be prepared in large trays in advance and just baked off. Rice balls (arancini) are actually pretty easy to make, especially out of leftover risotto, but they are really best served hot from the fryer IMO, so unless you have a fryer available at your venue I wouldn't recommend them.

      1 Reply
      1. re: biondanonima

        i was gonna say, you will never disappoint me with a well-made lasagna.

      2. How much do you need to make, how long will it take you to bring it to the school and serve it, what course are you providing, and how much do you plan to spend?

        My first thought was something with butternut squash or pumpkin. A risotto would be lovely but that needs to be served soon after it's made, so might not work. Can you find any pasta stuffed with pumpkin or orange squash? That would be lovely topped with sage/brown butter sauce and parmesan cheese, and would travel much better.

        Frittate are very nice served at room temperature and you can make them with just about anything. I often use spaghetti, rice, or any type of cooked vegetable (all with cheese, of course).

        Rotolo would also work nicely. There are many recipes on the internet. This one looks pretty good, though I haven't made it myself: http://recipes.kaboose.com/spinach-la...

        Why don't you go to the library and check out a copy of Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking? Her recipes are delicious, for the most part VERY easy, and have always been popular in my experience.

        1. Is this for a buffet or a sit-down meal?

          2 Replies
          1. re: smtucker

            buffet. it's for a big event that shows the kids food from several different countries and i'm doing italy. kids and parents from k-12.

            1. re: redgirl

              How many servings are you planning on? If it's a baked dish, are you going to have some way to keep it warm or will it need to be room temp? BTW "just a pasta with something thrown in" is quite "authentic" :)

              ETA: how much are you willing to spend? Some of the things mentioned could get quite expensive.

          2. This thread made me think about what I ate when in Italy (rome-naples-amalfi).

            Simple antipasto (sp?)-small plates with cured meats, olives, white anchovies, marinated mushrooms, fresh mozz and maybe some roasted red pepper.

            Parmesano Reggiano cheese!

            Fried zucchini blossoms.

            White bean soup.

            Pasta vongole-pasta with white clam sauce.

            Stuffed pasta such as ravioli.


            Branzino or other whole fish with just olive oil, lemon, garlic and parsley.

            Simple hot and cold shellfish dishes squid salad, small shrimp with garlic butter etc....

            Simple roasted vegetables with olive oil and balsamic

            Veal dishes. Still the main reason I go to Italian restaurants.


            3 Replies
            1. re: AdamD

              fish for a crowd will be expensive, and having it on a buffet in any event is not pratical.

              1. re: alkapal

                Just letting the ideas flow without knowing the context. Given the setting, obviously fried blossoms are not a good idea.
                In this context, I would suggest:
                An antipasto, a bean soup, a simple salad with parm curls and artichokes, a shellfish dish like squid salad or shrimp with garlic, roasted eggplant with balsamic glaze, ravioli, veal marsala, and gelato.

                1. re: AdamD

                  eggplant is so versatile. i just saw a load of "different" eggplant recipes. i like to do rollatini stuffed with ricotta plus herbs with a savory tomato sauce. http://www.organicauthority.com/blog/...

                  it is good warm or room temp.

            2. I just brought torta rustica to an italian class gathering and it was a big hit. The best thing is it's served at room temperature, I made the pizza dough but if you're not up for it, you could see if your local pizza place might sell you some. I vary the filling and used artichoke in the ricotta mix.


              Arancini are great but need to be served hot and aren't that easy to do if you're not familiar with deep frying. You could also do an eggplant parmigiana. That's easy to do in advance and bring in. Or, if you have a crockpot, bring in pasta e fagioli

              3 Replies
              1. re: chowser

                i love chowser's idea for a torta rustica. it is just a little different from what people expect, keeps well on a buffet, doesn't have to be coddled for the correct serving temperature, and won't be cost-prohibitive to make. plus, it looks really neat!

                1. re: alkapal

                  The layers are beautiful--the green, red and white. And, while it's different, it's really just deep dish pizza.

                  1. re: chowser

                    oh yeah, i could eat one right now. ;-)).

              2. Anchovies on crackers and lots of beer.

                1. So how many are you cooking for? If you make a lot of different dishes the first people in line will take some of each and then halfway through you have empty plates and people wondered what they missed. Have you talked to the other countries to see what they're cooking so you don't end up with a world's worth of enchiladas/lasagna/mousakka? I think the torta sounds like a great idea. How about doing an antipasto like someone else suggested with lots of seasonal vegetables roasted and sauteed like you'd see at almost any restaurant in Italy. Pasta is tough for a crowd because it tends to be well past "al dente" by the time it gets to the table. Classic Southern Italian would be roasted pork and potatoes maybe flavored with rosemary and a little garlic. That could be served room temp with no problem.

                  1. What about some gorgeous Ossobucco, with a baked rice done with onions, garlic, stock, and mushrooms? or some polenta with a San Marzano tomato sauce? easily prepped in advance, and will hold up nicely on a buffet. And then, there's always braised chicken with artichoke hearts and wine, or porchetta. If you want recipes, feel free to ask...it sounds like it's going to be a lovely party. (Oh, and oven-braised artichokes stuffed with crunchy breadcrumbs is an awesome starter; delicious and beautiful plated.)

                    1. Here are some "Peasant" dishes that I like to prepare for family gatherings. Not too hard to prepare.

                      Foccacia - you can do a traditional carmelized onions and sundried tomatoes.

                      Panecotta - escarole and beans baked with cubed day-old bread and grated romano cheese

                      antipasto - many different items can go on a cold antipasto like marinated veggies, cheeses and dry sausages.

                      hot antipasto - stuffed baked tomatos, roasted stuffed tiny eggplants, roasted red and green peppers, roasted whole heads of garlic drizzled with olive oil.

                      small pizzas - simple Margherita pizza's with fresh mozz, basil and tomato slices served room temp

                      broccoli rabe and hot sausage - either as a side dish or over pasta

                      spicy fried meatballs - pan fried meatballs served with no sauce and just some grated romano

                      shrimp fra diavalo - nice a spicy for the winter

                      stuffed peppers - small green and red cherry peppers stuffed with cube of provolone wrapped with prosciutto, or stuffed with Italian tuna mixed with Italian bread crumbs.

                      Bruschetta on grilled crusty Italian bread with EV Olive oil and fresh garlic

                      Pasta e Fagiolo - make it white, no red sauce. Very simple and very rustic.

                      Hope these help...

                      Buon Appettito!!

                      1. The torta, fritatta, porchetta and lasagna are great buffet ideas. And maybe a roast vegetable platter to round it out? Since you will be feeding kids I would stay away from the anchovies and beer though :-)

                        1. Because you'll be feeding children, I suggest sticking with something that kids will eat for the most part. Although personally I love many of the suggestions posted here, kids are finicky and will probably not eat alot of what's been suggested unless they've grown up eating these dishes.

                          If it were me, I'd serve something like a lasagna, stuffed shells or the chicken cacciatore you've listed. Another thing I'd consider is a chicken parm but instead of red saucing it, I'd spread with some basil pesto (yeah, I know it's not basil season but there are some frozen pestos that are nice) or make an arugula pesto, which will probably be less expensive in the long run. Slow roast off some roma tomato halves, peel & top the chicken. Garnish with shaved or shredded parmesan. This is an impressive and easy dish; you'll get compliments.

                          If you want to go on the sweet side and have a deep fryer, do mini fried donuts then use a squeeze bottle to fill them with jelly or pastry cream which is very easy to make. Giada has a recipe online and they can be made prior to the event.

                          1. If you want to do authentic dishes, I think it would be best to look at authentic sources. We all have our ideas of what is Italian, but that's not the same as being actual Italian dishes.