Ask Peter: Self-catering
We are thinking of catering a 50th wedding anniversary at home for 100 guests at the end of May. Any menu ideas that can help us move on from the usual leg of ham, salad and rolls? We have 1 large oven and a barbecue to use.
The key for a successful large catering job, when it’s for friends and family, and where you’ll obviously want to be able to enjoy yourselves and not have to be slaving away in the kitchen too much, is to make as much food as possible in advance and then you’ll only have to finish things on the day, or just before.
Depending where in New Zealand you’ll be, and therefore what the weather might be doing, you’ll need to strategise. In summer all you’d need have done would be to serve salads, cold meats and fish, and lots of iced drinks. Come May it’s best you work towards a series of comforting dishes you can easily reheat, alongside some freshly assembled salads.
Lasagnes and moussaka are, of course, always enjoyed, and easily reheated, but you might want to do a few more innovative platters.
Roast and barbecued meats are always good, and these can be served hot or cold. You can decide on the day whether you serve them hot or cold, weather depending. You could marinate a butterflied leg of lamb, fillet of beef, spatchcocked chicken (opened up and flattened but not cut in half), pork belly or many other things a day or two before the event. Then on the day, if it looks like it’ll be gloriously warm and dry — cook the meat just a few hours before it’s needed on the barbecue, making sure it’s rested at least 30 minutes before slicing. If, however, rain is beating down and you’ll be inside, then you could cook the meat in the morning and leave to rest before slicing it and serving at room temperature.
Fish fillets or whole fish can be seasoned and enveloped in herbs, thinly sliced lemons and olive oil. Wrap these in baking parchment, then in foil and cook several hours before the event and serve cold, or cook on the barbecue an hour before you need it and serve warm. You can treat vegetables in much the same way. Barbecued corn on the cob is gorgeous hot and cold, as are sliced eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, and asparagus when it’s in season.
If the barbecue isn’t your thing, slice vegetables all the same thickness and toss with olive oil, herbs such as thyme, oregano, sage and rosemary, and sprinkle with a little smoked paprika and salt and pepper. Roast in a large dish, so they aren’t packed too tightly — which will cause them to steam instead of roasting golden.
In summer you can slice eggplant, capsicums, zucchini, fennel bulbs and red onions, all ¾ cm think. In late May it might be butternut, celeriac, leeks, fennel, red cabbage and some out of season red capsicum (just for the colour) — all sliced 1 cm thick, with cumin or fennel seeds added and roasted until slightly caramelised. In cooler weather warm salads are great; often they’re also good served at room temperature, and these can sometimes be reheated.
I love roasting cauliflower florets with sliced fennel, thinly sliced red onions, garlic and ginger, extra virgin olive oil and sesame seeds at 180C fan-forced. Toss several times as it cooks and bake until golden. Meanwhile, whisk a few tablespoons tahini with the same amount of lemon juice and a splash olive oil. Once you’ve formed a slurry, mix in either a cup of plain yoghurt or creme fraiche and combine with the roasted cauliflower, lots of shredded mint and parsley. It can be made the day before, but in that case don’t add the tahini dressing. Reheat the cauliflower the next day and toss with the dressing and herbs.
Thick slices of roasted pumpkin and butternut, unpeeled but deseeded, can also be reheated a day later on either the barbecue or in the oven. A good garnish for them is 200g feta, crumbled, mixed with thinly sliced spring onions, the zest and juice of 2 lemons or 1 orange, ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup roughly chopped pitted olives, ¼ cup roughly chopped pitted dates and 2 tablespoons toasted pinenuts or hazelnuts.
And just to plug myself mercilessly, I have a new book coming out in early May called Savour – salads for all seasons. So you might just want to buy a copy of that and see what inspires you too!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on hiswebsite, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.