And I’m back….with $8 meals

Phew…..I’m back home from my yearly stint in Greece. My sincere apologies for not writing as much as I would have liked. Fortunately, my comrade kept things going smoothly while I was away! I hope that some of you were able to give the Greek pies and stuffed veggie recipes a try. But if not, surely there will be many more dinners to prepare in the future.

I am sure that many of you have experienced, in the last few economically trying years in America, having to pinch a penny here and there. And while this economic slump is now a global problem, we can all still do our best to eat fairly well while saving money. Of course, it’s nice to splurge from time to time and buy an expensive cut of meat or fish, but with a little know-how, it is possible to regularly make fantastic family dinners on a budget.

One key to saving money with food is to learn not only which general food products are inexpensive, but also which high-quality food products are inexpensive. Simply because an item costs more than another does not mean that it is better. For instance, usually a familiar cut of meat or fish is more expensive than another less known. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the less known one is worse. Many fish, such as skate, are not widely popular in the United States and, therefore, not priced as highly. (And, believe me, skate is delicious!) Be adventurous, and try something new — you may just find a new love.

Yet another way to save money with food is making sure to use whatever leftover ingredients you may have remaining after you cook a dish. For instance, the following the dish calls for fresh basil. Of course, when you purchase fresh basil, it is in a rather large quantity, and since basil really does not last long unless the roots are intact, and you place the bunch into water, you may be better off making the leftover portion into some homemade pesto, which will provide you with another quick and easy supper option in the future. You most likely have the ingredients lying around your home to produce a fantastically frugal meal and not even know it. Rummage through your cabinets or pantry to find a quick and easy solution for dinner. Some rice, beans, an egg or two, and perhaps a can of coconut milk have limitless possibilities. So use your imagination and incorporate some of those leftover items lingering in your kitchen.

During my stay in Greece, I had the opportunity to visit with a lovely friend of mine, who is Italian, and learn some of her wonderful recipes. One of which, I will share with you now and fits into my $8 meal category. Of course, you may be able to make this meal for even less, but here in New York City, food isn’t cheap, so $8 seems pretty good to me. I don’t believe you can even feed a family of four at McDonald’s for that much, but since I never step foot in those types of establishments, I could be wrong.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato and Basil Dressing

Yield: 4 dinner portions

1/2-3/4 box of pasta (fusilli, gemelli, angel hair, or whatever tickles your fancy) 
1 c. olive oil
15-20 grape tomatoes, torn by hand into quarters
3 stalks worth of fresh basil leaves
2 small cloves of garlic, halved
fresh pepper, salt to taste

Pecorino cheese for grating

Place a medium-sized bowl inside a sink (believe me, the tomatoes will squirt, and by placing the bowl into the sink, clean-up will be much easier!) and tear the tomatoes into quarters with your hands. Remove the basil leaves from their stems, and either tear by hand into small pieces, or chop with a knife, and place with the torn tomatoes. Add the sliced garlic. Sprinkle with fresh pepper and some salt. Add the oil. Don’t be afraid to add what may seem like too much oil. Apparently, this is the secret to this dish, according to my Italian friend. So go ahead and add an extra glug or two! It’s healthy for you! The left-over seasoned oil is fantastic for bread dipping.

Allow the tomato mixture to sit in the oil, occasionally stirring, for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a large stock pot with boiling, salted water. Once the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and allow to cook for approximately 8-10 minutes, depending on the shape of the pasta. (If using fresh pasta, which many grocery stores now offer, cook time will reduce significantly to about 2-3 minutes.)

Drain the pasta. Melt 1 Tbs. butter in the stock pot in which you cooked the pasta. Add the drained pasta. Remove from heat and thoroughly coat with the melted butter. Empty the pasta onto a large dish or bowl. Remove the raw pieces of garlic, if you so desire. Top the pasta with the fresh tomato basil sauce. Grate a generous portion of Pecorino cheese atop the pasta and give the dish a few good twists of fresh pepper.

A fantastically delicious, easy-on-the-pocket meal. Do you have any deliciously frugal meals on your family’s menu? We would love to hear from you. We’re gathering and testing more $8 meal recipes, and would love to post something of yours, so write us at: Happy Eating!

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