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
- 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.
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
- 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.
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
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.