Although it sounds daunting to cook spaghetti for 50 folks in your home kitchen, it's doable if you prepare carefully and especially if you cook the pasta ahead of time.
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Although spaghetti is a crowd-pleaser for both adults and children, it's a good idea to provide meat and vegetarian sauces to keep everyone in your large group happy. Add a green salad -- made with prewashed and torn lettuce, to keep things easier, if you have the budget -- and garlic bread to stay within the classic "Spaghetti night" theme.
Estimating Quantities of Spaghetti
Even if your guest list numbers 50 people, plan on making enough food for 60 people to give yourself peace of mind and a few leftovers for the day after your event, when you might be too exhausted to cook. For generous servings of 2 cups per person, prepare:
- 10 pounds of dry spaghetti
- 8 quarts of meat sauce and 4 quarts of vegetarian sauce, depending on your crowd. If you know that your group has no vegetarians, provide only 2 quarts of vegetarian sauce as an option.
- 3 pounds of shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese.
Use a 6-quart or larger pot for each pound of spaghetti so it cooks quickly, and change the water for each batch you cook so the pasta doesn't become overly starchy.
Cooking Ahead of Time
Parboiling pasta allows you to make it ahead of time and keep it for three to five days in the fridge, heating it up in 1 to 2 minutes when the time comes to eat. To parboil spaghetti:
- Add the spaghetti in 1-pound batches to salted water that has come to a complete boil.
- Stir the spaghetti with a fork until it's entirely submerged.
- Once the water returns to a full boil, cook the spaghetti for 2 minutes.
- Drain the pasta and pour it into an ice bath, a large bowl of water and ice cubes.
- Drain the spaghetti and toss it with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to coat the strands.
- Transfer the spaghetti into gallon-size plastic bags and place the bags into the refrigerator
Don't be tempted to skip the ice bath at the end of parboiling. The process stops the spaghetti from further cooking, preventing the texture of the pasta from becoming mushy once it's reheated.
Reheating the Spaghetti
For reheating parboiled spaghetti, you can reuse the boiling water for each batch and add up to 2 pounds of spaghetti into a 6-quart pot. Use as many large pots as your stovetop can accommodate. To reheat:
- Bring the water to a full boil.
- Add 2 pounds of parboiled spaghetti and cook it for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Taste the pasta after 1 minute to see if it's done to the texture that you want. Al dente pasta still has a slight chewiness.
- Drain the pasta and return it to the pot
if you have multiple pots. Or, use large serving bowls.
Serving the Sauce
Spaghetti sauce heats quickly in the microwave oven. Use your largest microwave-safe bowl and heat jarred, canned or homemade sauce in batches until it is piping hot. Provide a ladle and let your guests top their plate of spaghetti with as much sauce as they want.
Freeze any leftover sauce and spaghetti for up to two months with no ill effects in its quality. Store it in an airtight container, place it in a freezer-grade plastic bag or cover it well with heavy plastic and foil.