How to Cook a Pasta Dinner for 50
Whew! I cooked for 50! That’s not something that was ever on my radar as something I’d be capable of doing, let alone something I’d ever actually be asked to do. How did it happen? Our church has this great program each week that incorporates adult and children’s ed, as well as a dinner for everyone who wants to participate. This dinner is cooked by the families, so it works out that about twice a year each family cooks, and the rest of the year we get dinner cooked for us. It’s lovely. Last week was our turn.
I tried to think of the easiest possible thing to cook, and spaghetti with meatballs was it. We side-stepped most of our normal eating patterns for this one, since it would have been both cost- and work-prohibitive. But I feel pretty good about it nonetheless. Here’s what we used:
- 6lbs of spaghetti (should’ve done 8lbs)
- 1 cup evoo
- 7 32oz jars of sauce
- 10lbs of pre-made meatballs from the warehouse club (the right amount)
- a warehouse club bottle of parmesan
- 9lbs of pre-bagged salad mix (only 4lbs was actually eaten)
- 3 bottles of salad dressing (two would’ve been plenty)
- 6 dozen dinner rolls – since the pasta ran out, these all went too, but it seemed like it would’ve been the right amount
- 1/2lb butter – we had a full pound on hand though
- 1 gallon milk – we had an extra gallon on hand just in case
- 1 large large bottle of apple juice
Dinner starts at 6. This was the cooking plan:
4:00pm we arrived in the kitchen and familiarized ourselves with it, reading all the posted instructions and identifying where our needed pots and utensils were. In the meantime, I had our Middle One put the salad mix into bowls, which I then plastic-wrapped and stuck in the fridge together with serving utensils. Once dish was already done!
4:20 Set Middle One to work opening boxes of pasta and unwrapping the plastic from around the bottles of sauce.
Eldest filled 2 big pots of water. We put 10 quarts in each. If we’d done 12 quarts we could’ve boiled 4lbs spaghetti in each pot, instead of 3. Salt generously. Wait very patiently for it to come to a boil.
Preheat the giant oven.
Our Eldest poured 5 jars of sauce in one pot and 2 in the other. The Middle One began arranging meatballs in a single layer (fancy patterns and shapes optional!).
Cut the butter into little pats, for easier serving later on. Kept it out of the fridge to soften.
5:00pm We stuck the meatballs in the oven for 20 minutes. I started the first pot of pasta. The kids were doing play-dough by this point and minding the toddler (who had previously been on my back). Also began heating up the sauce, which went surprisingly fast. I started the other pot of pasta 5 minutes after the first so I wouldn’t have to drain both at the same time. When the pasta was al dente I drained it into a giant colandar and mixed it generously with evoo. Stuck it back into the giant pot figuring it’d stay warm, which it thankfully did. I put the meatballs in the larger pot of sauce and heated to a simmer, at which point I turned the heat off. I did set a few meatballs aside and aluminum wrapped that bowl so that people could have a meatball-only option.
5:30pm the Middle One went down for his class, the Little One went on my back, and the Eldest recruited her friends to put table-cloths on all the tables and fold napkins. MrH showed up, about an hour later than anticipated!! But no stress here, we did great. We pre-poured a lot of the drinks and brought out all the serving ware. Turned the big pot of sauce back on, and also heated the smaller pot. Began selecting serving dishes.
5:55pm We were parading to and from the kitchen to the serving tables. We were ready!
I was super happy with the end result. The pasta had lost a little heat but was not sticking, and several people commented on it smelling great, which I attribute to the olive oil. The 6lbs of pasta was not enough, next time we’ll definitely do 8. We’ll also have boiling water ready to make another couple of pounds in case it’s needed.
My biggest accomplishment though? I didn’t stress about it. There was definite potential of it being awfully stressful and unpleasant. But somewhere between the store and actually arriving at the church our family said a prayer for the evening. We all managed to stay in a great frame of mind about the whole thing, and I look back on the entire experience with a sense of deep satisfaction.