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Hit a dead end with my Italian Menu for large crowd

Hi there,
I think i've overthought this menu and now i'm turned around and dizzy : ) I could use my fellow cooks' wise advice and suggestions.

i'm having a pumpkin painting party/dinner for approx 22 adults and 15 kids. I know I want to lay out a big antipasto platter with bruschetta (w/pesto and mushrooms). Main menu: Jamie Oliver's Hunter Chicken (making this day before), a big pot of polenta (Thomas Keller), a tomato salad with goat cheese and walnuts. Dessert will be store bought cupcakes and cookies.

I would like to add one additional pasta dish that all the kids AND adults will love. I think it should be creamy, and the key is that it's EASY to make. If i can make the sauce ahead of time that would be helpful as I have a 6 month old and 2 yr old and for some reason i've taken it upon myself to invite a ridiculous number of people (KIDS!!) : ) thank you in advance for helping me!

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  1. I'd go for something simple and kid-friendly, since I don't see kids getting excited about polenta or tomato salad or goat cheese. Maybe tortellini with a pumpkin sauce?

    3 Replies
    1. re: katecm

      I agree but an alternative to set you thinking might be pumpkin ravioli with a butter and Parmigiana sauce...

      1. re: Gio

        If the other kids are also young, I would skip the pumpkin anything in food. I would stick with a simple mac and cheese or baked ziti kind of thing.

        1. re: Gio

          I love pumpkin ravioli (pumpkin lune with butter and sage). It's way too good for kids.

      2. Perhaps a mac n cheese using a novel pasta shape with some Italian touches like ricotta and mozzarella used in the sauce, some parmesan crouton type things for the crust, maybe some bits of pancetta or mild Italian sausage and sauteed mushrooms with the pasta?

        You can bake it off the day before and just reheat the day of, and it would definitely appeal to adults and kids alike.

        1 Reply
        1. re: inaplasticcup

          +1. Cannot go wrong with mac/cheese. My unadventurous cousins get all weird about mushrooms in their food, but unless you have guests as weird as my cousins (they're 5 and 8 years old), the above is beautiful.

          1. Does it have to be creamy pasta? You already have polenta for creaminess and not everyone likes creamy sauces (as a child, creamy pasta sauces turned my stomach but I have grown to be ok with them). A simple tomato-based sauce will be familiar to most people and is usually pretty popular. Plus it's easy to make.

            1. How about a classic baked ziti (or other shape of pasta)? For the sauce, simply saute shallots and garlic in a saucepan and add two cans of crushed tomatoes, season with salt & pepper, simmer covered for about 20 minutes. Cook 2 boxes of pasta until the very al dente stage (about 5 minutes less than the box directions say). Combine a large container of ricotta, shredded mozzarella, grated parmiggiano and a couple of eggs in a bowl, season with a little salt & pepper. Mix pasta and ricotta mixture together with a few ladles of sauce. Pour this into a greased lasagna pan and ladle over more sauce, more shredded mozzarella and grated parmiggiano. Bake covered tightly with aluminum foil for approximately 30 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until the top is nice and crusty. You can always do all of this up to the baking stage a day or two before. The day of the party take the pan out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature and then bake as directed, keeping in mind you may need more than 30 minutes for the covered baking time.

              Of course this is all very basic and you may add whatever you like to the baked pasta: cooked sausage, crumbled meatballs, etc.

              1. A cold pasta salad might be easiest of all. That, or a big pot of Italian Wedding soup.

                1. Two more dishes:

                  -Baked ziti, no meat (maybe some veg hidden in it) - cook the pasta and assemble the dish ahead, then warm in the oven

                  -A pot of meatballs (make ahead, bake them, freeze them. Thaw, warm, and sauce them the day of)

                  Kids love both of these. I know these things are simple, but they wil work.

                  1. Oh, and it's nice to serve the polenta in a giant shallow bowl or deep platter with the chicken pieces and pan juices right on top of it.

                    1. I agree with the baked ziti suggestion. My spouse made a pasta dish last night that was off the back of a box but actually pretty good. Cooked shells layered with meat (browned with mushrooms and onions), jarred alfredo sauce, and parmesan cheese. No tomato sauce, which made me happy.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: tcamp

                        great suggestions everyone. I'd like to keep it vegetarian since many kids (at least mine) are not big meat eaters, and most of us in the group do not eat beef so no meatballs. i like the idea of pasta--and would LOVE to do a pumpkin ravioli--but like some of you mentioned not confident it'll fly with the kiddos. Have any of you tried Ina Garten's Penne with 5 cheeses recipe? i like the idea of it bc it is creamy and has tomato. recipe is similar w/ some of your ziti recipes. I think i would take out the gorgonzola bc of kid factor: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/in...

                        i think serving chicken OVER polenta is ideal and would help prevent polenta from firming up quickly however i have to keep them separate bc of the vegetarians in the group--i know, we're a tough crowd : )

                        1. re: Lotus7

                          I totally get that you are trying to make this a nice meal, but honestly, I have a 7 and a 5 year old and I go to a lot of these kinds of parties. The salad, chicken and polenta sounds great for the adults, but truly, you are overthinking something for the kids.

                          I realize that you can't please everyone, but you are wasting your efforts on making a "fancy" pasta dish for the kids. It will be wasted on them. They will be happier with something simple....baked ziti, regular old mac and cheese, or, as Bada Bing suggested, order some pizzas. My daughter happens to be a kid who will eat anything, but my son, forget it. Not saying I like it, but for a party, I think you should go with something that most kids will eat.

                      2. Honestly, I'd consider having several pizzas delivered. Not everything needs to be home-made, not in my book, anyway.

                        And I say that as someone who has cooked large and all homemade quite happily. Just seems to me that there's room for pizza in this context.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          Also, going homemade, you could make a couple of Sicilian-style pizzas in well-oiled half sheet pans. That's a lot of slices for a crowd, quite authentic, and most are quite good warm or at room temperature, so they don't give you the same time-crunch factor of making small, fresh, thinner pizzas.

                        2. If there's one thing kids love, it's something familiar. I'd almost suggest adding an easy foccacia or rectangular pizza that can be cut into small squares kids can eat with their hands. I can see the kids wanting a bit of chicken, a hunk of pizza, and a few bites of creamy pasta.

                          I'd do a pasta shape like rotelle (wagon wheels) or radiatore that are chunky and hold a lot of sauce, so it's easy for little ones to get on their fork, or the tiny ones to grab with their hand. A cheese and ham pasta bake like this would be great since you could make it ahead and either bake or warm it at the last minute: http://www.quickfreerecipes.com/itali... or this http://www.daisybrand.com/recipes/rec...

                          1. Lasagna rollups?

                            These can be made a day in advance. I skip the prosciutto and cut the spinach in half. Really tasty!

                            http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/gi...