Cooking for a crowd: Try these stress-free, no-fuss dishes

Jess Murphy: Planning ahead and keeping it simple are key when cooking for a crowd

Cooking for a crowd can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a Dallas-type mansion with a gravel driveway and a kitchen island. Kitchen space is often at a premium, as it is in our two-up, two-down terrace. It is our place, perfect for two – until the Kiwi relations arrive, with their Irish working visas. The cousins can’t stay with us until I see a return ticket, that’s the golden rule.

We are currently having my folks to stay, and as they are enjoying their retirement, it is for three whole months. Finding space for everyone can be challenging, especially when mum is used to living on the farm. But it is always great fun cooking for more than two people.

Planning ahead is key, and keeping it simple, too. Make a batch of these hoisin chicken wings with buttermilk ranch dressing to dip them in, and watch them disappear in record time. If you are feeling fancy, pop them on the kitchen table with some napkins and finger bowls of warm water with lemon slices in them, and have a good old catch up.

This pork meatball recipe, jazzed up with a spoonful of harissa and some cooling Greek yogurt, is a real crowd-pleaser – and if some don’t like it hot, you can always leave their bowl without the harissa.


Chances are you’ll have a vegetarian, or two, among your clan. This roasted yellow courgette warm salad with halloumi and a spiky mojo dressing will keep them, and the meat-eaters, happy.

Most of all, remember that food shouldn’t be stressful, it should be stress-free.


Serves four
For the tomato sauce:
2 cans plum tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, smashed
10-15 basil leaves
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp chilli flakes

For the meatballs:
1kg pork mince
1 slice of stale white bread, crusts removed and torn into small pieces
2 tbsp milk
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp fennel seeds
3 tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

To serve:
Harissa or chilli sauce
Yoghurt or sour cream

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil and garlic together in a wide saucepan. Gently brown the garlic, then add the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon.
2 Bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring often, until thick. Season with salt.
3 For the meatballs, soak the bread in milk for 10 minutes then squeeze out the excess liquid and add to a bowl with the pork mince. 
4 Add the garlic, chilli flakes, fennel seeds, parsley, salt and pepper, and mix well.
5 Roll the mixture into golf-ball-sized balls, place them on a baking tray and bake at 200 degrees Celsius, or equivalent, until golden brown.
6 Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and cook gently on the hob for 10-15 minutes until the meatballs are tender. 
7 Taste for seasoning and serve with some harissa, or fermented chilli sauce and yoghurt or sour cream.


Serves four
3 yellow courgettes
Handful of basil leaves
2 tbsp broad beans, blanched and podded
3-4 fresh radishes, sliced thinly
Zest of 1 lemon
1 red pepper
8 slices of halloumi (we use Toonsbridge)
Olive oil

Mojo dressing:
3 large red peppers
3 cloves of garlic
Half tsp sweet paprika
1 red chilli
150 mls of olive oil
1 thick slice of sourdough
Olive oil

Roast all four red peppers, along with the garlic cloves and red chilli, in an oven heated to 180 degrees Celsius, or equivalent, until the peppers are soft and the skin blistered. Peel the skin off the peppers, remove the stalk and seeds, and slice them thinly. You will use one in the salad and three, along with the garlic and chilli, in the dressing.
2 Slice the courgettes into 1cm slices lengthwise. If they're really long, cut them in half.
3 Lay the courgette strips on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 190 degrees Celsius, or equivalent, for 15 minutes, until golden brown. Alternatively you can heat up a griddle pan on medium heat, drizzle the courgettes with olive oil, salt and pepper and grill on each side for about two minutes.
4 To make the dressing, toast the bread until crisp, like croutons. Put the three roasted peppers, garlic, chilli, paprika and toasted bread in a blender and pulse slowly, adding olive oil to get a dressing-like consistency. Season to taste.
5 In a mixing bowl, add the squash, basil, broad beans, lemon zest and the remaining red pepper, thinly sliced, and mix well. Season to taste.
6 Heat the olive oil in a pan on medium heat and pan fry the halloumi on both sides until golden brown.
7 Add the halloumi and radish to the mixing bowl and top with some of the mojo dressing.


Serves 4
1kg chicken wings
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
3 tbsp hot chilli sauce
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Salt and pepper

Buttermilk ranch dressing:
75ml mayonnaise
75 ml yoghurt
75ml buttermilk
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
20g fresh dill, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed

Preheat an oven to 200 degrees Celsius, or equivalent.
2 Mix the honey or maple syrup, soy sauce, hot sauce, garlic, smoked paprika, salt and pepper together. 
3 Add the chicken wings and mix until the wings are thoroughly coated.
4 Spread the wings evenly out on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until cooked and golden, turning over halfway through.
5 For the dressing, mix everything together in a bowl.
6 To serve, sprinkle the chicken with sesame seeds and serve with the dressing.