Cooking for a crowd at a party or potluck requires the cook to not only make larger amounts than a regular weeknight dinner, but decide how to serve, store, transport, and display as well. There are certain dishes that are better to make than others when considering portable food/food that can stand for a time without extra heating. Being able to make a portion of the dish the day before is a boom. As a caterer for almost 20 years, portable food for a crowd is one of my specialties. I share some of my best recipes here. Taking advantage of seasonal produce, store bought or homegrown, is essential for economical cooking and always appreciated by your diners. Adapted from my book The Gourmet Potluck (Ten Speed Press).
People adore enchiladas on the buffet. There are many variations, maybe one for every cook who makes them, but here is one of the most delightfully unique–the filling is shredded zucchini and mellow California olives. My mother has been making this to satisfying vegetarians as long as I can remember and it is an often requested dish. I think it might have come from Sunset two to three decades ago. The savory tomato sauce with lots of sweet bell peppers is a snap to make and a special taste treat; it can be made 1 to 2 days ahead of assembly. You can make this in one very large casserole dish, or two smaller 9-by-13-inch (3-quart) ones. This casserole cannot be frozen before cooking; fresh zucchini will become too watery and the tortillas disintegrate, so make it the day you are going to eat it.
Preparation Timeline: Assembled the same day it is to be eaten, 8 to 12 hours ahead; Sauce 2 days ahead
Serving Equipment: Two 3-quart oval or 9-by-13-inch casserole dishes, serving spatula
Onsite/Reheat: Yes, but optional
Temperature at Serving: Hot or warm
Chunky Tomato and Bell Pepper Sauce
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 medium green, yellow, or red bell peppers (or combination), cored, seeded, and coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
- 2 16-ounce cans whole tomatoes in their own juice, broken up with an immersion blender or your hands
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 scant tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons dried marjoram
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/3 teaspoon ground cayenne
- Pinch of salt
- 3 pounds zucchini, coarsely shredded
- Two 2 1/2-ounce cans sliced black olives
- 8 cups (about 2 pounds) shredded Cheddar cheese, or mixture Cheddar and Monterey jack
- 2 dozen fresh yellow or white (blancos) corn tortillas
- 1 pint sour cream, regular or fat-free, optional, for serving
- 1/2 cup minced cilantro, for serving
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a 3-quart pan and saute the onion and peppers until soft over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring twice. Remove bay leaf. If made ahead, cool and refrigerate. Then just before assembling enchiladas, warm over medium heat until hot.
Assemble the two 3-quart oval or 9-by-13-inch casserole dishes, the zucchini, olives, and cheese on your work surface.
To assemble, dip each tortilla in the sauce for up to 1 minute to soften it (The term “enchilada” simply means “dipped in chili”). Put the tortilla on a plate and fill with a heaping 1/2 cup of the grated raw zucchini, a few olive pieces, and 3 tablespoon cheese. Roll up and place seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat to fill all the tortillas and lay side by side in the baking dish (okay to be touching). Pour the remaining sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle top with remaining cheese. If made ahead, cover and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 350º. Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until bubbling hot. Serve hot from the oven or warm. Or cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate. Have a bowl of sour cream and one of the cilantro to pass for topping.
Transportation Notes: Have the sour cream and cilantro in separate covered containers or wrapped small serving bowls. Place the casseroles on the floor of the car or in the trunk with a large thick towel wrapped around the base to prevent tipping over, or place in an insulated cooler for longer transport.
Onsite/Preparation: To reheat, bring chilled uncooked casserole to room temperature an hour before baking. Preheat the oven to 350º. Bake, uncovered, for about 50 minutes, until bubbling hot. If warming, set in oven for 10 minutes. Prepare bowls of sour cream and chopped cilantro.
Sweet Bell Peppers
Summer Squashes: Zucchini and Yellow Squash
Stone Fruits, such as Plums and Nectarines
Summer Herbs, such as Dill, Chives, Cilantro, Marjoram, and Basil
Peaches, Nectarines, Plums
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2013
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.