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Big Crowd, No Problem

So, you're expecting two dozen for a birthday dinner. When trying to find a meal that everyone not only likes, but considers a celebratory feast.  Our version of lasagna for a crowd is hard to beat.  It can be made with a number of variations of different sauces, veggies and meats to satisfy everyone.  Make a smaller side lasagne when you build your casseroles with veggies only for that guests who are vegetarians.  Following are a couple of ways to easily throw together a great lasagna for a crowd.  It doesn't come easier than our recipe!

Any good pasta dish starts with, yes, good pasta.

It doesn't matter too much what brand you buy,  if it's made from a hard durham wheat it's a good sign.  Most importantly you must cook it properly.   You can start with either traditional lasagna noodles (which can be purchased in whole grain, spinach and other varieties) or another form of noodle.  Great lasagna is more about the layering than the actual type of noodle.  You'll need about four pounds total for this dish to serve two dozen.

Cook with copious amounts of water in a deep pot.  Remember, as with any pasta, let the water come to a rolling boil first, add a teaspoon or so of salt, a few tablespoons of olive oil and then put the noodles in a couple at a time and cook for about seven or eight minutes.  Drain quickly and rinse with cool water.  These noodles should NOT be soft but just somewhat flexible. They will finish cooking with the casserole.

Since this is lasagna for a crowd, you'll need around 10-12 pounds of some type of ground meat.  Most lasagnas use ground beef, but you can use turkey, chicken , pork sausage or a combination.  For your vegetarian dish you can prep soy crumbles or stick with extra cheese.  While browning the meat, season with salt, pepper, three cups of diced onions, 4-8 TBLS of basil and 2-4 TBLS of oregano and as much garlic as you can take.  It's a matter of taste.  But for this lasagna we suggest at least one head of minced garlic or 4 -8 Tablespoons of prepped minced garlic from the jar.  After the meat has browned, add 8 large cans of crushed or pureed canned tomatos; or up to 4 quarts of prepared marinara. Be creative, a cup of wine, a few fresh tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms and peppers can all be stirred into the sauce for a great variation.  Even eggplant can make a creative difference the vegetarians will love, if you want to really be edgy about it! Just dice and saute the unpeeled eggplant in olive oil and add to the meat sauce.

Every great lasagna for a crowd also has thick gooey, mega layers of cheese.    The traditional choice is ricotta, but lots of people opt for a mix of blender emulsified cottage cheese.  Either is fine, and the brand doesn't matter, but you will need about 2 quarts of soft white cheese, 4 C of parmesean  and 4-5 pounds of shredded mozzerella.  Put the cottage or ricotta cheese into a bowl, and add 12 beaten eggs and 2 teaspoons of oregano and 4 TBLS parsley and freshly ground pepper.   With the sauce cooling and the noodles drained, you are ready to build!

The next step is the layering.  Use an aerosol can (Pam or some other brand) of olive oil and coat the bottom of each pan.  Plan that you will probably need from 4 to six pans.  Use glass or stainless steel cake pans.  Avoid using alunimum due to the acid found in tomato sauce.  Begin with a thin layer of meat and sauce, then noodles, then the soft cheese mixture, then the mozzerella. This process should be repeated up to two times and then after a final layer of pasta on top, add the final generous portion of meat and tomato sauce and finish with the Mozzarella cheese.  This will top off your lasagna for a crowd to a tee.

After all of the pans are filled, you can refridgerate until about 2 hours before serving time.  Allow them to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven and bake them at 385 degrees for 40 minutes to an hour.  After they are done, take the pans out of the oven and let them cool for about 15 minutes before cutting each large pan into about 8 good sized pieces.

This recipe can easily be halved for a smaller crowd of a dozen or multiplied accordingly for a larger one. Whatever the ocassion, lasagna for a crowd is a pleaser every time.

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