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Advice needed from Professional Catering Chefs for Italian Banquet for 80 people

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

I am a serious home cook and have cooked often for large groups.  I am planning a fundraiser banquet for 80 people at my church.  I have access to the kitchen with professional 6 burner stove with double ovens that hold full sized pans and a small flat top.  The meal will be seated and served by waiters.  I have good home cook helpers.  I need advice about menu.


I was thinking of preparing both a vegetable lasagna and meat sauce lasagna ahead.  My helpers are willing to make them the day before and I have two great recipes.  They would come in the typical home 9 x 13 Pyrex pan or aluminum pan.  I am afraid that the aluminum would taint the acid based sauce (they are both red sauced.)  i also wonder about fitting those individual pans in the oven to reheat.  also how to reheat without drying out the lasagna.  I also wonder about the expense as they both use lots of good cheeses and the meat sauce is veal, pork and beef so more than beef or sausage would be.  Also, is lasagna to "ordinary.'


I next tried chicken cacciatore.  My recipe is delicious and less expensive but it needs some starch to absorb the sauce.  I used papperedelle and loved that, but I think it may be hard to plate on regular plates (we ill not have access to pasta bowls and I don't want to rent them.)  I wonder about polenta squares that are reheated on the flat top to give them some crisp.  Then sauce lightly and garnish with s simple Italian greens salad.


The first course with be platters of assorted antipasti on each table.  Two or three different crostini with spreads I can make ahead, olives, cherry tomatoes, a bit of cheese and possible some salami.


Today I am trying some canoli shells I found at the restaurant supply to see if cannoli will work as dessert.  I will make a traditional filling and bring to a pot luck this evening where my helper cooks can decide if they will work.  I just don't know if they can sit any time at all once filled.  I think not.  That will be less of a problem at the banquet than tonight but we will see.


I am open to any other menu suggestions.  This fund raiser is for a medical mission to Haiti, so it is important to retain as much of the donations for the mission and not use it all for food.  We hope to get some food donated.  We are asking for a $25 donation per person.

post #2 of 8


If its a professional kitchen there should be some 200 pans 2" or 400 pans 4". for lasagna.

If you paint the cannoli shells inside with chocolate they should hold up.

just quick thoughts

post #3 of 8

The aluminum pans should work well without any issues. I've used them a thousand times for off-site and drop off where the client wouldn't leave a deposit for hotel pans. Just be careful when cutting the portions if you are plating. The knife can definitely pierce the aluminum and cause issues if you're holding in a water bath. Also don't forget to allow the lasagna to rest. Cooking it the day before and reheating is not a bad option. Plus, if you have access to the hotel pans, that would be much better but not a deal breaker. Depending on how thick and large a square you plan on serving, two full hotel pans should be enough for the number, especially with the other food options available and you can also do 4 half size pans. This option might be more manageable when it comes to serving. Lasagna may seem "too ordinary" but it's always been a special dish reserved for more special occasions in my experience especially if it is done right.


Next is the chicken. My first question is are you using an 8pc cut up or boneless pieces for the dish and secondly have you considered some red skin mashed potatoes seasoned with butter, chopped garlic, oregano and Romano cheese? This is a simple and cost effective alternative to other choices and not at all uncommon with Chicken Cacciatore. Personally, I like the whole cut-up but you can run into issues with what people will request as in white or dark meat. To avoid this, if you have access to a restaurant supplier, a 12oz airline breast would be a perfect choice. (An airline breast is a boneless chicken breast with the wing drumette remaining attached.)  Just cut the portions in half and serve one half per person. They roast off well and look nice when presented with the sauce and mashed potatoes. The polenta is a very nice thought but without seeing what kind of kitchen you're dealing with, it might become a complicated mess using the flat-top to crisp. Employing the KISS theory is not a poor decision.


The antipasti sounds very nice and I always enjoy a good presentation. Sounds like you have bases covered with a good assortment of spreads, meats cheeses and marinated vegetables.


The cannoli is a tough one because you can't make it too far ahead. Yes the filling but not filling the shells. I would avoid filling the shells more than an hour or so before being served. If your mix is wet, you'll have less time than that. Just remember a limp and mushy shell can destroy the effort to do a nice and classic dessert like this. If you have the help, it can be pulled off since the number is under 100. Something else to consider would be a Tortoni if you have access to the cookies and the Spumoni. These can be scooped ahead and held in the freezer, if available. Ladle some rum laced chocolate sauce (or ganache) over the top and you're good to go. 


From the sounds of things you've got a good plan and a tasty menu. Hope what I have added has helped in some way and as always........... good luck.



edit; While I was typing, Panini posted the idea about the chocolate......great idea!

Edited by oldschool1982 - 8/20/14 at 10:41am
post #4 of 8

I just think there is so much sauce going on. 

First we got lasagna, then we have chicken cacciatore, which i don´t know your recipe but mine has sauce as well. 


If you do go ahead with the lasagna, you can build the layers and leave it cold and just bake on the day. No need to pre-cook and re-heat. 

Of course if the sauce has meat the meat will basically will be cooked before you even bake the lasagna. 

I find 2 lasagnas a bit much, a bit heavy as well as it will start comparisons between the 2 dishes, and may cause critism if they don´t turn out great. 


My opinion on the chicken is that it seems great and all, but plating can be hard, i rather plate on pasta bowls. But that being said if it tasted good, you can play with the plating as much as possible to make it decent. 


I also have had an experience with polenta, and then fried or heated to turn crisp. 

In my honest opionion i think its too greasy, a bit chewy and i just don´t like it. I rather have regular soft or hard polenta, but fried or toasted to me just doesnt go. Especially with a salad on top with dressing, it wont remain so crisp an can even get a bit soggy. 


I think one lasagna should be enough. Are there going to be vetegarians at the place, if so you could make a veggie lasagna just for the selected few instead of making 2 lasagnas for everyone.... 

I like meat based lasagnas, eggplant, chester with zucchini, etc... Its versatile and with a good sauce and some good filling it is great. 

I just think portioning and cutting lasagna to plate to be a b*tch though. Especially when the lasagna starts to break after the first few slices etc.... 


I would probably go ravioli, or just some other pasta dish, to not risk the presentation of the dish, etc...


As for the polenta dish, i probably wouldnt use it. I just find it greasy at least from past experiences. 

I would probably go maybe Caprese Salad instead of polenta. With some sweet cherry tomatoes, mussarela de buffala, some basil and just really good olive oil. The tomatoes could be confited with some rosemary, salt and pepper, to not serve raw. 

I also think of maybe a cherry tomatoe, pickled red onion, basil and heart of palm salad. I dont know the plating in my head just seems pretty and i think the flavors would be light. 

That or if they have fryers, maybe attempt an arrancini. 


I would serve couvert, since its 80 people i think making bread shouldn´t be so hard. Since making the dough at letting it sit to grow for 1-2 hours gives you time to prep other things. 3 slices per person would be fine, even 2 would be okay. Served with maybe regular butter, or maybe a garlic compound butter. That or just some pesto. 


Or scratch the bread and the polenta dish and make a Brushetta, traditional with eggplant and tomatoe, maybe putanesca, maybe marinated eggplant with peppers and onions or maybe a cannelini beans and rosemary. Or do an Italian Panzanella, with cannellini beands, cucumbers, provolgne, basil, onions etc... and cubed bread. If you make it two hours in advance the bread will really soak up the flavors. Problem is i dont know how you would plate it, aside from maybe in lettuce cup son a plate.... 

I also thought of maybe a broiled polenta with a mushroom ragout as well. 


You could sub in the vegetable lasagna for maybe a vegetable dish. Maybe a medley of roasted well seasoned vegetables, potatoes, onions, zucchini, eggplant etc... maybe sub in the potatoe for pumpkin. Just really nicely seasoned with salt, pepper, maybe thyme or rosemary, fresh herbs, and roasted with some really good olive oil. 

Maybe you could serve a potatoe gratin instead as well, or a fennel gratin or potatoe and leek gratin, the ideas behind a gratin are simple and endless. 


As for desserts i think the canneloni sounds great. 

If it doesnt work you could maybe do a Zabaglione with berries. 

Poached cherries with marscapone cheese. 




So sorry for suggesting changes, i get so many ideas that i start ranting a bit. A problem when people post menus lol. 

Feel free to use, or not anything i stated. 

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.



Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.


post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thanks so much to all for these suggestions.  I did a dry run of the cannoli and with the help I have we can fill as folks eat the main dish.  The vegetable lasagna is only for vegetarians.  I would make either a half or quarter pan and it could be heated in a kitchen next door so both ovens would be available for the meat lasagna, which is where i am leaning.  If 2 full or 4 half hotel pans will serve my crowd and I make them the day before, how long will it take for me to reheat them with each oven having just 1 full or two half pans?  My recipe is pretty firm and they will all be plated to serve at the same time so hopefully  they will portion nicely.  It does when I make it at home.  

post #6 of 8

@CookinGood4U When I served this, reheating for me was done low and slow in an altosham and the lasagne was also held in that. We also re-sauced and re-cheesed the top with it going on a plate into a convection oven for a couple minutes to melt the cheese. If I had a  salamander in the kitchen, there instead of the oven.


If it was my event, I would let the lasagne sit on the counter for about 45 minutes to an hour before putting in the oven.  Also, I'd go 350 covered with parchment and foil. Letting the chill come off is not a bad idea and it's not sitting out long enough to create any issues. Just use your better judgment and check with a Bi-therm after about 35-40 minutes into reheat. Anyhow, the time varies with the oven and the thickness.


Good luck

post #7 of 8
Just a few more ideas for you to chew on......every year i cater an italian buffet..i just catered it for 80 last week and have another one next week.....even though it was a buffet and your affair is plated, a few things i have done in past years that worked well may be helpful to you...chicken in marsala mushroom sauce( boneless, skinless chicken thighs,which can be made the day before and reheated perfectly would compliment your red sauced lasagne, a rice pilaf to soak up the sauce from whatever sauced chicken dish you go. A spinach and ricotta filled chicken breast which can be made the day before, cooled, sliced and reheated(low and slow). Or you could go the grilled sausage with tricolor peppers, as well as meatballs route. Everyone loves meatballs and they are gentle on the budget. I don't think there is anything 'ordinary' about a great lasagne though....i use a combo of bulk italian sausage and ground beef. As old school suggests, low and slow on the reheat and have extra sauce and cheese at the ready. Filled Mini cannoli shells have about an hour or so shelf life if refrigerated, so you can get a bit of a head start on them..just make sure your mascarpone mix is on the dry side..make it ahead,and give it enough time to set up.
Whatever you serve, i truly hope that this humanitarian fundraiser goes well and that people are generous.....god bless you and all the best for a great evening.


food is like should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne


food is like should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

post #8 of 8

I'm not so sure on the mascarpone $$ for cannoli, I like to use the ricotta impostata, a little drier.:eek: 

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