Inexpensive cooking has hit the web like yellow mustard splats a hot dog.
I started this web site a few months ago now, back when "bailout" might have meant those $1,200 checks families got in the mail rather than $700 billion to heal corporate America's boo-boo. I'd been feeling the pinch more from having lived on a dollar salary in a euro world, but now the idea of writing about cheap eating seems prescient. I caught the wave early.
Anyway, I decided to give the $7 Dinner Challenge as outlined on Sweetnicks a try, figuring it fit well with my efforts to write about healthy, frugal eating and with my efforts to keep our own grocery budget in line as food costs refuse to drop along with the price of gas.
We have a three-person household here in Seattle, with me, my husband, and my brother (also a grad student). Last month, we spent about $15 a day on groceries, which certainly isn't bad, but it would be helpful if we could do better. However, we draw a line when it comes to food quality; we won't subsist on ramen just to make ends meet.
Thus, I write posts like this one to show that you can live on the cheap without eating ramen or double cheeseburgers every night. The meal we had on Sunday, pesto pasta with smoked sausage and salad, cost only about $2.27 a person (for three people -- if you had four eaters, it's $1.71).
Give the method a try! You could make it even less expensive by using pre-grated parmesan cheese, regular pasta, and plain old vegetable oil, too. It would still be a healthy meal (albeit with a little less fiber), full of heart-friendly fats and pretty lean protein.
Pesto Pasta with Smoked Sausage
Source: Pennies & Pounds
Yield: 4 servings (unless you're serving hungry guys . . . then maybe only 3!)
1 pound pasta
2 tablespoons almonds (approximately)
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro
salt and pepper
1/4 c. olive oil
Reserved pasta cooking water
1/4 c. grated pecorino romano
1 pound turkey smoked sausage or kielbasa
1. Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Salt the water generously and add the pasta when it's ready. Cook the pasta until it's al dente. (I usually set a timer for 7 minutes.) Make the rest of the recipe while the water comes to temperature and the pasta cooks.
2. Grind the almonds and garlic in a food processor. Add the cilantro and pulse until it's chopped. Add a pinch of salt and some black pepper. With the processor on, drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube. It won't look too saucy yet. Take a break from the sauce until you drop the pasta.
3. Slice the sausage into rounds and cook it over medium-high heat until it is nicely browned. Keep it warm over low heat until tossing time.
4. After you've put in the pasta and let it cook a couple minutes, scoop some starchy water out of the pot with a measuring cup. Turn the food processor back on and gently pour in the hot water until the pesto looks nice and loose. Remember, it will thicken a bit more when you stir in the cheese. Pour the sauce into a large tossing bowl and stir in the pecorino.
5. Add the hot pasta to the bowl and toss with the sauce. Add more pasta water if it looks too dry for your taste. Add the seared sausage and serve.
Cost breakdown (your prices may vary):
Pesto pasta with smoked sausage:
500 g whole-wheat pasta: $1.32
1 pound turkey smoked sausage: $2.00
25 g almonds: $0.25
1 bunch cilantro: $0.69
1/4 c. pecorino (.8 oz): $0.39
4 garlic cloves: $0.08
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil: $1.02
fresh-ground black pepper
and a salad of:
1/2 head iceberg lettuce: $0.40
1/2 cucumber: $0.40
2 plum tomatoes: $0.27