The Versatile Reason Pasta Should Be Your Go-To Dish For A Large Group

Cooking for a crowd is no easy feat. Mormon funeral potatoes were literally created as a solution to this issue. To effectively feed a room-full, a dish needs to be low-cost, relatively painless to prepare, accessible enough to please picky eaters, and substantial enough to actually fill people's stomachs. Enter pasta. We're talking lasagna, baked ziti, macaroni and cheese, and other gooey dishes in the same family.

We don't need to tell you that pasta is as utilitarian as it is comforting. Home cooks would be hard-pressed to find a foodie who's ever been disappointed to dig into a warm bowl of pasta. It's also the ultimate thrifty dinner option for large groups. As a general rule, two ounces of dry pasta per person is a good serving size gauge when cooking for a crowd. At a Walmart in New York, a 32-ounce box of Great Value store brand spaghetti runs for $1.88. Per the two-ounce rule, that comes out to 16 servings at under $0.12 each. After factoring in the sauce of your choice, you're still reasonably looking at under $2 per plate. 

Dishes like these require just a few minutes of hands-on prep work to assemble, but once they're completed, hosts are free to slam that casserole dish in the oven and walk away, mingling with guests as dinner cooks. Plus, pasta dishes typically include protein and a veggie depending on the ingredients you use (sausage and kale, for instance), making them filling and nutritious. 

Full belly, full wallet, full range of options

Pasta's versatility also means it can easily adapt to fit any allergies or dietary restrictions your guests might have. Dried veggie-based pasta (think "zoodles" and red lentil linguine) is becoming more available in many grocery stores, which makes a flavorful swap for gluten-free foodies.

Got a basil plant on the windowsill? Place it on the kitchen counter or dining table next to wherever guests will be served or serving themselves; they can tear off a few leaves to garnish their plates. 

As a fun idea for parties, boil a few different shapes of pasta in separate pots, then whip up several saucepans of different sauces. Your guests can assemble their own customized bowls of pasta with unique shapes and sauces — one person has pesto fusilli, another has pipette ragu, and the most labor-intensive part of the whole party will be washing out the pots at the end of the meal. To save even more time, you could always opt for a selection of jarred store-bought pasta sauces instead of making multiple sauces from scratch. If your guests ask what they can bring, you could suggest a jar of their favorite sauce, some garlic bread, or a bottle of full-bodied red wine to complement the meal.