Looking for tips on how to cook for a large crowd
We are going to be vacationing in Italy in mid July and we are renting a villa with two other families for a week in Le Marche. There will be 6 adults and 7 kids in total. I am sure we will be going out for some meals, but based on convenience, cost, and the fact that a couple of us like to cook, I anticipate that some main meals will be had at home. I love to cook and I think I'm pretty good at it, but I am intimidated cooking for more than 6 or 8 people. I find I tend to get the portions wrong. I'm Italian American, so I tend to be most comfortable overfeeding, but I'm not sure the math goes the same way with large parties, meaning if I could a pound of pasta for 4 people, do I cook 3.5 pounds for 13? And honestly, how do you even do that? Don't laugh. Seems to me you'd need a damn big pot. So you see where my craziness starts.
Any tips you can give me for cooking for large parties or simple dish suggestions that are easy to do for big parties, I'd really appreciate. Keep in mind I'll be in Italy so I'll have access to great meats, salumi and produce. I probably won't have air conditioning and I will be on vacation so anything too laborious or makes the kitchen super hot would not be preferable.
Thanks in advance!
We had 10 in a place in Provence a couple of years ago -- seasonality plays havoc with this, but it might at least head you the right direction....
we bought a huge leg of lamb at the market, and roasted it for a nice meal with vegetables and roasted potatoes one night.
lasagna one night (actually, I think it was manicotti...but same general idea)
We took the leftover lamb (which we knew we would have), cubed it, and make a stellar lamb stew with it for another night
Raclette one night (this is a no-go in Italy, and definitely not a summertime dish -- but you could easily do charcuterie and cheese and salad.
At the moment, the last three nights completely escapes me, but we tried to stay with meals that are easily scalable to a crowd, and made a point of supplementing with lots of salads, cheese, local wines.
You can cook pasta al dente, in batches. Drain, set aside. This is how restaurants do it, returning it to hot water "a la minute" when an order comes in. At mealtime bring a pot of water to a boil and dunk ALL the cooked pasta in long enough to bring it back to temp. It won't matter that the pot is chock full of pasta. As far as that goes, see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/583856.
You can actually cook 3-4 pounds of pasta at one time, in an 8qt pot. Harold McGee came around to recognizing this in one of his articles, regardless of the opposing view of the likes of Lidia Bastianich.
If you're used to cooking for 6-8 -- easy -- just double it.
If the villa is big enough to hold that many people, It's a pretty safe guess that you won't be the first ones to need to cook for that many people. it will very likely be equipped as such.
And under-counter dorm refrigerators haven't been the norm in Europe for quite a few years now -- they exist, but mostly for singles and young couples who just don't have room for anything bigger. A house big enough for 13 people will most assuredly have a "normal" fridge.
I think it depends a lot on what sort of kitchen you've got - my limited experience of European kitchens leans to small and very little fridge space.
If temperature is a priority, or the kitchen is very small I'd go with really simple. Pastries, fruit, coffee, juice for breakfast. For a meal, good bread, cheese and cured meats, olives and vegetable antipasto, salads, add some simple vegetable dishes, quickly cooked seafood. Think blanched green beans with a vinagrette dressing, or sauteed zucchini and tomatoes, asparagus, pan fried fish or broiled shrimp in the shell.
For quantities - you don't want too many leftovers for a week, so I'd go with risking not having enough, and filling in with bread and cheese as needed.
Good luck with this. In my personal experience of renting holiday accommodations in Europe, their idea of a family-size refrigerator is the American idea of what your son or daughter takes to the college dorm to keep the beer cold. And over thirty years of renting villas and flats in Italy, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and England, I never once saw a kitchen equipped to cook for a large crowd. You may want to eyeball the actual pots and pans situation before you do any planning.
Excellent points. Americans have a false impression that the rest of the world eats the same portions we do, and has the same type of appliances that we do here. Especially if it is a very old property, you will need to shop each day for basics, as the storage will most likely be an issue.
VVV, I will be very suprised if your villa is not well equipped for a crowd, including a HUGE pasta pot!
Think in courses, as the Italians do; you would start with some antipasti; cured meats, olive oil, salt, grilled veggies, bread... then a pasta - you don't need so much per person if the portion is a starter ( (2-3 oz. dry) with a light sauce - perhaps an arugula pesto or rapini and beans with some coppa.
You may even encounter a grill or large roasting oven in your villa - or have an outdoor grill set up. Buy some meat, marinade, and grill, serve with copious veggies and salads inspired by your meals in restaurants and the markets you encounter. Ask the market vendors what to make with what they sell you.....
Don't worry! Be inspired by your adventure! I am sure the joy of the products and people you come across, and collaborating with your house-mates will provide meals that will linger in your memory for years to come.
And ask what your kitchen is equipped with, if it eases your mind for the long plane ride:) Enjoy!
Expressed like someone who has had the European family (group) dining experience. I even like the menu suggestions. Just remember that, In Italy, pasta is served for the sake of pasta and it is not drowned in sauce the way you typically find it served in the US.
Checking with the booking agency regarding the availability of cooking equipment is a great idea. Even if they don't offer a pot large enough to prepare 2 pounds of dry pasta you can probably pick up an 8 - 10 quart pot if you've got a kitchen that will handle it. I usually serve 6 people with a pound of spaghetti when that's the main dish so, if you're planning on spaghetti along with a large quantity of other goodies you may want to adjust that to some degree.
But for Americans, even in Italy, pasta is still allowed to be a main course. Sure, it can be great to go the many course route of many European countries (and as someone with no kids that is always what we do) but with 7 kids, pasta can certainly be the main course and nothing bad will happen to you.