Tag Archives: Italian

Eating for £2 a day, part six: the return of pasta

6 Jul
Pasta with aubergine, fennel and tomatoes

Pasta with aubergine, fennel and tomatoes

Sixth, and final instalment in a series of posts about cheap meals in which I feed two adults (one of which is me) things they genuinely like eating, on a budget of around £2 each per day.

First, an apology: I already blogged on pasta as part of this series. There are other cheap staples that I could (and probably should) have devoted a post to – so honourable mentions to soups, to smoked fish and sweet potatoes, and not forgetting other carbs such as the humble baked spud or the poncier bulgur wheat (aka the cous-cous I actually like).

But the fact of the matter is, if you’re spending £2 a day, you’re probably going to eat a fair bit of pasta – I’ve regularly gone through periods of living on it four days a week or more. And simple tomato-sauce based meals can get pretty repetitive – one of the most obvious pitfalls of any diet on a budget.

So it’s worth mixing them up with the likes of the dish below, which is equally good served hot or cold (or room temperature, anyway) so it’s perfect to take with you the next day. It comes from the Cranks Bible, also home to the awesome pasta fagioli recipe I posted on back in January. And if you want something a bit less vegetable-based but still suited to skintness, just Google up ‘tuna cannellini beans pasta’ and get to work.

Pasta with aubergine, fennel and tomatoes (4-6 portions; total cost, about £6)

You will need:

  • 100ml olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 fennel bulbs, cut into 3cm chunks
  • 1 large or 2 small aubergines, cut into 3cm chunks
  • 500g tomatoes, cut in quarters and seeds removed
  • 1 chilli, chopped fine
  • A few basil leaves
  • 400g pasta (the original recipe says farfalle, but shells or similar work just fine)
  • 75g grated cheese
  • Salt and pepper

To prepare:

  • Heat the oil very gently and fry the garlic until transparent.
  • Turn up the heat to medium high, add the fennel and stir for about 5mins.
  • Add the aubergine and continue cooking until softened and browned – 10-15mins. Keep a close eye (and nose) on things and stir almost constantly to prevent the garlic from catching – if this is in danger of happening then drop a splash or two of water into the pan.
  • Add the tomatoes and chilli and stir on a high heat until the tomatoes have softened, but are still recognisably tomatoes.
  • While this last bit is under way, cook your pasta then drain.
  • Tear the basil leaves into the vegetable pan add the pasta and mix together well. Serve with the cheese.

Eating for £2 a day, part five: eggs (and the only pan you need)

5 Jul
Tortilla with onion, potato, garlic, bacon, peas and broad beans

Tortilla with onion, potato, garlic, bacon, peas and broad beans

Fifth in a string of posts about cheap eating in which I feed a pair of adults (one of which is me) a selection of meals that taste good, on a budget of around £2 each per day.

About five years ago, after a breakup, I moved into a house where, by coincidence, everyone else was also a recent heartbreaker or heartbreakee. Unsurprisingly, most residents were more interested in alcohol than food, so the kitchen was not that well kitted out – which eventually drove me to buy a pan.

I made it a large heavy sauté pan with a lid – if you have one of these you can pretty much make do with just a single other thin shitty saucepan to cook rice, pasta or boiled veg in. Since then most of the types of food I make have been prepared in it at one time or another: pasta sauces, curries, risottos, some of the rice-based pulse dishes I mentioned yesterday. But the thing it’s best for is making the kind of inches-thick omelettes you can live off for several days.

Some call these by their Spanish name: tortilla, others say frittata (the Italian version, which can involve a messy additional stage of whisking ingredients into your beaten eggs). Whatever – they are one of the best of all foods for using up bits and enjoying hot one day, cold the next, and should set you back no more than £1 per portion.

If you like spices, the Indian masala omelette is also a thing of beauty that you can adapt how you want and, should you somehow get tired of all these, a wide pan is also ideal for other simple egg dishes such as the Tunisian chakchouka.

Tortilla (2-4 portions)

You will need:

  • 4tbsp oil (at least)
  • 6 eggs
  • 3-4 new potatoes, chopped
  • 2 onions or leeks, thinly sliced
  • Salt & pepper

Plus a couple of things from this list, if you have them:

  • 2-4 rashers bacon, snipped into matchsticks
  • 50g or more salami, chorizo or similar, chopped
  • A slice or two of ham, chopped fine
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2-1 cup of frozen peas or broad beans
  • 1 small courgette, cut in half lengthways then thinly sliced
  • Handful of grated cheese
  • Or whatever else you fancy – so long as it’s not tomatoes. Their juice is likely to rob your tortilla of the caramelised underside that is one of its best features.

To prepare:

  • Heat the oil over a low heat and fry the onions very gently for 15-20mins. They should be soft and sweet but not brown.
  • Meanwhile boil some water and give the potatoes 5-10mins until almost cooked.
  • Beat the eggs with salt and pepper.
  • When the onions are done, start adding secondary ingredients. Turn up the heat to medium and fry meat, garlic or fresh veg for 2-3mins; if using frozen you can just defrost it under boiling water and add to the pan.
  • Add the cooked potatoes, continue cooking a minute or two longer and mix well so everything is evenly spread.
  • Pour in the beaten eggs, shaking the pan a little to evenly distribute, and set over a medium-low heat.
  • Sprinkle cheese, if using, onto the top of the still-liquid omelette – it’ll settle near the surface – and get your grill preheating.
  • Cook for 10-15mins or until just a shallow puddle of liquid remains on top of the tortilla, then grill until golden and puffed-up on top.
  • Slice like a pizza and serve with bread and, if you have any, some salad.

Eating for £2 a day, part three: simple pasta

3 Jul

Pasta with green beans in tomato sauce

Third in a series of posts on cheap eating in which I feed two adults (one of which is me) a selection of meals that taste good, on a budget of around £2 each per day.

Ever had a conversation about which carbohydrate you’d choose to live off, if you were only allowed one? It’s a tough call, but I always get a nagging feeling that pasta would be the safest bet – even if you’ve got next to nothing to put it with, you can fix up an ace, frugal meal.

The recipe below is as simple as it gets, but punches a long way above its low cost – to the point where a contented ex-housemate named it Alex’s Pasta and continues cooking it (as far as I know) to this day. Sadly I didn’t invent it – its origins are lost in the sleepless mists of my early twenties – but for two people it will set you back well under £1.50.

Other basic winners I cook every month include amatriciana (which I’ll also be eating as part of my £2 a day shop) and pasta alla Genovese (it’s illegal to still be hungry after taking down linguine and potatoes in the same dish). Also strong is a variation of the one below in which an onion is gently fried at the start, the chilli is omitted and a red pepper – grilled black, skinned and chopped – is added near the end in place of the beans.

Pasta with green beans in tomato sauce

You will need:

  • 1tbsp oil
  • 1 large or 2 small cloves garlic
  • 1-2 chillies, fresh or dried
  • 1 can tomatoes
  • 100g green beans
  • 200g pasta – if your beans are long and thin, spaghetti or linguine are best, if they’re fatter dwarf beans then shells are ideal
  • Cheese to top

To prepare:

  • Heat the oil very gently, slice the garlic and chilli finely, add to the pan and soften (but do not burn!).
  • Add the tomatoes, bang up the heat, break up the tomatoes and bring to the boil.
  • Simmer over a medium heat for around 20 mins until a thick spicy sauce has formed.
  • Meanwhile bring a pan of water (or kettle) to the boil, pop it on the stove and lightly salt.
  • Top and tail your green beans, leaving them whole if thin or cutting into halves/thirds if thick. Pop them into a sieve and set them to boil/steam until tender over the boiling water.
  • Lift out the beans, add a dash of oil to the water and get your pasta on. When it’s nearly ready add the tender beans to the tomato sauce.
  • Drain the pasta, reserving a few teaspoons cooking water. Toss it in this, then mix up with the tomato and green bean mixture.
  • Top with grated cheese and get it down your neck.

On the pulse, part four: pasta e fagioli vs winter blues

16 Jan

Soup, pasta or stew? Irrelevant: it's delicious.

So today is allegedly the most depressing day of the year aka Blue Monday. Indeed, one BBC Scotland piece seemed to suggest that the combo of season and current financial uncertainty had created a candidate for the most miserable day ever.

I’m not sure I buy into any of this babble – I find much of the first six weeks or so of the year can be equally numbing. But with post-Christmas gloom and belt tightening on many people’s minds, genuine austerity cooking in Greece making international news and this blog recently looking at UK food poverty, it seemed appropriate to feature a dish that’ll give the winter blues a robust poke in the eye – owing both to the minimal impact it’ll make on your scrawny January wallet, and the fact that it’s healthy, tastes shit-hot and warms you up.

Culled and lightly adapted from Nadine Abensur’s ever-useful Crank’s Bible, this pasta e fagioli recipe packs in all the best aspects of a pasta dish (obviously), a soup and a stew.

There are many other variations to be found adding bacon, spinach or using different kinds of beans or pasta; strictly speaking you should be using dried beans, as this Telegraph recipe does, but for speed I’ve used tinned ones here. Either way, there are few more comforting meals to turn to during the darkest time of the year.

You will need:

  • 2 cans borlotti beans
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • A few fresh basil or sage leaves
  • 600ml vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium potato, chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 200g pasta – small soup pasta are best but any short pasta will do
  • 2 tomatoes, cut in six pieces
  • Salt and pepper

To prepare:

  • Fry leek and onion gently until softened before adding all other vegetables. Continue cooking for another few minutes.
  • Add the borlotti beans, dried herbs and stock – you may want to include some of the can liquid from the beans for a thicker result.
  • Simmer for at least 15 minutes; meanwhile cook the pasta until al dente and add along with the chopped tomatoes and fresh herbs.
  • Give it another five minutes, check the seasoning and serve in bowls topped with grated Parmesan and the leaves from your celery, if there are any. Become a few degrees warmer and happier.

[Serves four]

Real Italian Pizza Company, Bath

6 Dec

Four seasons in one minute (almost)

Being a man with a ridiculously high metabolism who needs serious carb fuel roughly every two to three hours, pizza has long been a diet staple of mine. Sometimes there’s no substitute for food that can just be picked up and shoved straight into the face like a furnace being stoked.

But it’s still got to taste good; few things in my life bring on an over-dramatic tantrum faster than the Weak Pizza. So when an email from one of my colleagues pings into my inbox suggesting an after work trip to Bath’s Real Italian Pizza Co – and is followed up by some downright greedy responses from others on the list – I’m drooling hard.

It being the week before payday, no-one is feeling particularly flush – but no matter, the RIPC also generously has an ongoing policy of matching any current offer from the big chains such as Pizza Express or Zizzi. In other words, rock up carrying a voucher from a competitor restaurant, and it’ll be honoured.

In the event, just making it over to the restaurant proves a struggle. Bath Christmas market is newly under way, meaning the route is littered with food scents fine enough to drag even the most determined pizza seeker off course. At length though, we’re there and in business.

In keeping with the simple eats being discussed, there’s actually not much need to dwell on the meal itself. The inside of the Pizza Co is clean and functional, and cold Peronis (three varieties are available) arrive quickly. Crucially, though, the pizza bases are thin but not over-crunchy, the sauce is sufficiently jam-like and garlicky, the anchovies and olives are moist and tangy, and the pepperoni is pungent and thickly sliced.

It’s not quite Gone In 60 Seconds, but not far away. The bill comes to around £9 per head. There’s no good reason not to go there, really.

The Real Italian Pizza Company is at 17 York Street, Bath BA1 1NG

Puttanesca: 10 years at the top

11 Apr

Puttanesca pasta

It feels slightly like a cop-out dedicating a post to cooking puttanesca. No pun intended (I promise), but the “whores’ pasta” is a pretty well-worn dish. It’s served on Italian restaurant menus the world over, and the UK’s national culinary treasures Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have both included versions of it in their books.

However, I realised as I was making some last night that it had been probably my favourite food for a decade. Surely reason enough for a shout-out. And there must be people out there who don’t know how to make it. Though whether or not they are reading this blog is a different matter.

So why do I love eating puttanesca so much? Two reasons I guess:

  1. The obvious one (and supposedly how it got its ladies-of-the-night-related nickname). All the ingredients are store-cupboard, ie you can have them in all the time, waiting for whatever hour you get in. Even flat leaf parsley keeps a good couple of weeks.
  2. The one that makes you want to chow it regularly for years and years. It has several of the most intense possible flavours, rolled into one gorgeous pungent sauce. Chilli heat, sweet concentrated tomatoes, salty olives, capers and anchovies, and a sizeable dose of garlic. What more do you want?

You will need:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 can anchovies, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced as thinly as possible
  • 2 dried chillies, chopped fine
  • 400g canned tomatoes
  • 1 heaped tsp oregano
  • Black pepper
  • Small can black olives, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
  • Small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped

To prepare:

  • Put the oil in a heavy-based saucepan on a low heat.
  • Add the anchovies, stirring for a few minutes until they break down completely and dissolve into the oil.
  • Now put in the garlic and chillies, giving them a couple of minutes to soften. Take care that the garlic doesn’t get brown.
  • As soon as the pan starts to sizzle, add the tomatoes and turn the heat up high. Stir vigorously as the mixture comes to the boil, breaking up the tomatoes.
  • Add the oregano and a very generous grind of black pepper, turn the heat down to medium and leave about 20 minutes.
  • When the sauce has reduced to a thick, jam-like texture, stir in the olives and capers, lower the heat, and set your pasta to boil in well-salted water.
  • As soon as the pasta is ready, add the parsley to the tomato sauce. Drain the pasta, reserving about a tablespoon of the salty cooking water. Unless you want blood like the Dead Sea, you shouldn’t need to add any further salt to the sauce.
  • Toss the pasta with the reserved water, stir into the sauce and serve topped with parmesan.

Serves two.