Cooking for a crowd is an art form. Whether you’re entertaining extended family outdoors in late August, throwing a winter birthday party inside, or celebrating any number of holidays, the key is to make something delicious that’s low-stress enough to feed crowds and free you up to actually have time to spend with your guests.
When they work as planned, these tend to be the dishes that become classics – your mother’s pork shoulder, your grandfather’s leg of lamb, your aunt’s Thanksgiving sides. These are the treasured recipes for sharing, for trotting out on those very occasions where everyone crowds under one roof to celebrate everything from graduations to staff meal to a cause you love to a full moon (hey, any excuse for a party…).
But here’s the thing: depending on what kind of cook you are, you may not even need a specific recipe if you have a reason to be cooking for a crowd. Just ask the experts. Julia Turshen, author of Feed the Resistance and Small Victories, recently made 400 meatballs (give or take) for the Farm to Form Fundraiser for the Kingston YMCA Farm Project, a cause she loves. “We didn’t really use a recipe, just kinda winged it,” she says.
Here’s how to wing 400 meatballs, no matter whom you’re cooking for. First, gather donations of food from your community (or go shopping). Julia got bread from Bread Alone and local meat from us and one other farm. Then she took her gathered meat (12 pounds ground sausage mix, 13 pounds ground pork, and 25 pounds of ground beef) and mixed it with bread that had been torn and soaked in milk and lots of fresh herbs, finely chopped. “Thyme and parsley, mostly, and some minced fresh garlic and onion. Salt and pepper. A few eggs,” she explains. “Then we just formed them into meatballs and roasted them in 400ºF ovens on parchment-lined sheet pans until they were cooked through (about 25 minutes or so). The next day at the event, we warmed them up/gave them some extra flavor by having the kids from the YMCA grill them just before serving. This wasn’t 100% necessary as they were cooked through, but a really nice touch.”
These meatballs were served, with salsa verde and quinoa mixed with kale and cabbage from the Y’s farm, to 135 people. Leftovers were donated to a local halfway house. As Julia Turshen wrote on her Instagram, “Food justice starts where you live.” Maybe you won’t needing to serve 400 meatballs anytime soon, but this is a malleable recipe – make as many as you need. And try to take Turshen’s attitude, if you can, if any entertaining anxiety or qualms should arise when cooking for a crowd: “Just so grateful for family + friends + fresh food + community.”
Cheers to that.