Crowd-pleasing reliables

When it comes to catering for large numbers, you need dishes that are real crowd-pleasers

 Strawberry and orange cheesecake. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Strawberry and orange cheesecake. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 01:00

There’s an adage that says you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But sometimes, as a cook, you have to at least try.

Putting aside for a moment the issue of providing for the occasional guest who suffers from food allergies, when it comes to catering for large numbers, you need dishes that are real crowd-pleasers. That doesn’t mean going for the lowest common denominator options, but it can mean going for new twists on old favourites and for simple, fresh, quality ingredients prepared with a little love and imagination.

Of all the culinary traditions that seem to appeal to a wide audience, Mediterranean food leads the way. Maybe it’s all the sunshine that goes into growing those amazing vegetables, but Mediterranean food is full of flavour, texture and colour – all of which are winning qualities when it comes to feeding the masses.

Pissaladière is a delicious Mediterranean onion tart made a bit like a pizza, and it’s a toss-up between northern Italy and the neighbouring areas of southern France as to who does the best version.

Either way, traditionally it consists of a light, crusty base topped with piles of sliced onions reduced to sweet, caramelised softness, as well as olives, anchovies and garlic.

The version of pissaladière I’ve included here is a bit of a cheat because it’s made from puff pastry rather than by making a dough-base. But this is Ireland, not the Mediterranean, and if you’re going to cook for a crowd, I’m guessing ready-made puff pastry would rank higher on your list than home-made dough.

And importantly, it’s still delicious. Best of all, like the real thing, it’s lovely hot or cold. And the Italians would approve because this version includes a smidgeon of cheese.

My second recipe is for a strawberry and orange cheesecake. Yes, most people love strawberries, especially Irish ones in season, and, yes, cheesecake is a perennial favourite. But I have to admit my motivations for baking this one are entirely unrelated to these facts.

What actually happened is that I felt an urge to recreate the wonderful baked cheesecakes that were such a feature of my late teenage years in the US.

Call it nostalgia, call it what you like, but the result was well worth the effort – a light, citrus-infused cheesecake topped with strawberries macerated in honey, black pepper and a splash of balsamic. Nostalgia rocks and, by the way, I can’t speak for yours, but my “crowd” were very happy.

dkemp@irishtimes.com

Food cooked and styled by Domini Kemp and Gillian Fallon

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