Italian food is probably the one we are most experienced and comfortable with. We did a mostly Italian theme for one soupnight last year and it was quite a success.
Cooking for a crowd though, has some drawbacks. Particularly if you don't want to be in the kitchen the entire evening. My first instinct was to make lasagna. Gavin took some convincing, but once he realized he'd be able to harness is inner saucier and whip up some bechamel and ragù, he was on board.
The best lasagna we've ever made was made with homemade noodles. Yes, they are a bit more involved, but they are definitely worth it. There are loads of recipes out there. The best tips we've learned over time though are a) rest your dough, b) heavily flour your pasta maker and c) use flour sack towels for storing the rolled and/or cooked dough.
Gavin started the ragù on Friday night. We decided to make a double batch, since we were expecting quite a crowd. It included 12 oz of pancetta, 1 pound of chuck roast, 1 pound of pork shoulder, lots of carrots, celery and onion, some garlic, tomato and spices and plenty of patience and time.
When all was said and done - and assembled - we had ourselves quite a hefty lasagna on our hands. This beauty weighed in at 17 pounds!
We made a Vegetarian Lasagna as well (minus the 2+ lbs of flesh) that included a nice tomato sauce and the same bechamel as the Lasagna al ragù, but substituted a nice ricotta/egg/spinach mixture for the meat.
To this menu, we wanted to add a light, fresh and crunchy salad. We had enough cheese, cream and flavor already involved in the lasagna and dessert. At a New Year's Eve party this year, I spotted this "deconstructed" Caesar salad that someone had brought:
I loved this idea of little Caesar "tacos." They turned out great - all I did was wash some hearts of romaine and separated out the leaves. Then, I squirted a little dressing on the leaves and topped with a crostini that had been toasted with some parmigiano on top.
And finally, dessert. I have never been particularly enamored with Italian desserts. Other than gelato and tiramisù, there isn't much in the dolce department that has ever truly excited me. Unless, it is Panna Cotta. This was a pretty straight forward dessert to make: warm some milk, sugar & gelatin, add to a big bowl of cold cream and vanilla bean, pour into ramekins and chill for 4+ hours. It is basically cream Jello. The flecks of vanilla bean are a nice touch, as is a little decorative application of berry coulis.