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The pizza epic

I briefly considered modelling this post on Homerian epics, having just finished “The Secret History”, a novel about an elite group of students of classical Greek, but it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m not sure I’m up to the task. (Plus that novel was more serious and beautiful than this blog post could ever hope to be.)  The other day, we made food for many many many people. We had a housewarming for some friends: I say “housewarming”, but that’s a bit of an excuse, because we’ve lived here for eleven months now and frankly the place is pretty warm by now. Also, I say “some friends”, but once we got past 15, I stopped counting. When your RSVP list hits that many, specifics don’t matter anymore — you just say “lots” and cater accordingly. And cater accordingly we did! EPIC COOKERY. And so can you. I like cooking for big crowds, provided I don’t have to do it too often.

Base tower! Architecture-cuisine-fusion of the most awesome kind!

First up, we made everything in advance, including, pictured above, 18 pizza bases. M’s a card-carrying pizza pro and that makes things fantastic around here. (If you’re curious, here’s his How I Does It page.) While cooking them just before eating is best, you can pre-cook pizza bases pretty comfortably — I mean, obviously not weeks in advance, but an hour or two ahead is fine. After the bases, M made a huge vat — a vat — of tomato and oregano pizza sauce which would have been heaven on its own, but then we had millions of topping options to take it further.

Many small bowls of tastiness

Pizza worked really well for a crowd this big: we encouraged everyone to bring some toppings, and then we chopped up millions ourselves and covered the bench with bowls of toppings. When the time came, we told folks to top ’em and bake ’em as they saw fit. We had: cooked potato, rosemary, basil, shallots, purple onion, garlic, chilli, mozzarella, parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, olives, kidney beans, pesto, hummus, caramelised onions and caramelised leeks and a huge tub of pizza sauce. Man, it rocked. Folks brought meats, olives, anchovies, pineapple, more veggies — anything they had a particular itch for.

This picture doesn't really illuminate further, but does break up the text.

Meanwhile, M and I made an enormous bowl of hummus: he toasted the sesame seeds, roasted the garlic and cooked the chickpeas, then I swanned in with a fork and mashed it all together and took the credit. I made a big pot of pesto and M whipped up a giant pot of couscous — we found out one of our attendees had a salicylate intolerance, so we wanted to make sure there was something to slake her hunger. Couscous with leeks, red kidney beans, garlic, and loads of haloumi and butter. Unbelievably delicious. Couscous is another awesome choice for big groups because it scales up easily: it’s not noticeably more work to make a batch of couscous for fifteen than it is to make a batch for, say, four, although your arm gets tired from the extra stirring. We had (have) lots left over. I thought about forcing everyone to prove they’d eaten a bowlful before they were permitted to leave, but that would have only used up half and frankly I’m happy to hoard it. Couscous freezes well and I’ve been eating it at work for lunch every day with no sign of being bored yet.

An intriguing lesson learned: if you invite folks to bring pizza toppings, they will bring approximately the same volume as they consume, so at the end of the night you end up with roughly the same amount of food you started with, minus the pizza bases. It was like an antipasto swap meet. Also, we had plenty of pre-chopped toppings left over, so cooking has been a total breeze all week — the fridge has been like a giant chilled mise en place and it’s completely awesome.

I like leftovers like this: I feel like there’s an extra challenge. “What will we cook tonight using only these four things?” (The answer is usually burritos.)

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