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.
Megadarra: basically rice, lentils and onions, but far more than the sum of its parts
My writing of this conveniently ties in with an article about British and American meat addiction by Felicity Lawrence
in last Saturday’s Guardian
(surely the lentil-eater’s publication of choice).
The benefits of consuming less meat are many and have been repeated at length by millions. So I’m not going to parrot them here. However, it was interesting to read a persuasive argument against the myth that veggie diets are automatically second best in terms of taking on board protein.
So with immaculate timing, here’s another pulse-based winner, megadarra (aka mejadarra, mujadarra or moujadara, depending on where in the Middle East you’re eating it
As its main ingredients are just rice, lentils and onions, it costs virtually nowt and fills you up like a bellyful of warm cement. But it’s being included here because it tastes unbelievably good, provided you like onions: sweet and caramelised and spicy and comforting all at the same time – and it’s equally good cold the next day.
You will need:
- Approx 125g green or brown lentils.
- Approx 125g long grain rice (standard stuff is fine as basmati can be a bit too delicate).
- Three medium-sized onions.
- Approx 3/4tsp each of coriander, cumin and paprika. You could also try adding allspice.
- 6tbsp olive oil.
- Salt and pepper.
- Natural yoghurt, to serve.
- Put your rice in a bowl of cold water to soak.
- Rinse the lentils and boil them hard for 10 minutes in a good-sized pan of water, then drain.
- Meanwhile, finely chop one of the onions and fry in 2tbsp of oil until softened and slightly coloured. Slice the other two thinly and set aside for now.
- Add the spices and stir for a minute or so before seasoning and adding the drained lentils.
- Add about 600ml of water, bring to the boil and continue cooking for 10 minutes or so.
- Drain and rinse the rice and add to the lentils. Boil for another five minutes or a bit longer – most of the liquid in the pan should have disappeared.
- Now turn the heat down as low as possible, cover and leave undisturbed.
- Meanwhile heat the rest of the oil in a large frying pan until very hot. Fry your remaining two onions, stirring often, until they are brown and crispy, about 15 minutes. It’s very easy for them to go over and turn black, so keep a close eye on things.
- When the onions are done, tip the lentil mixture into a serving bowl and pour the onions and their oil over the top. Leave to rest for a few minutes so the flavours soak through.
- Serve with the yogurt spooned on top, and maybe some salad if you’ve got some.
I like walking through Adamsdown on my way to town. The terraces are a different colour, but it reminds me of my walk into town in Preston as a teenager. The Royal Oak is a fantastic old boozer to pop into for an early evening pint. Oh, and the area has the coolest set of street names I’ve seen anywhere.
I had spotted Canteen on Clifton Street on one such stroll and had been keen to try it out for ages. As a meat eater who also cooks plenty of veggie food, I was intrigued by a place willing to stand or fall on the strengths of a vegetarian selection, while also offering the olive branch of a single carnivore-friendly dish per menu. Plus it was tailor-made for this blog for the following reasons:
- It’s in an area that probably isn’t first on most people’s lists if they are thinking of going out to eat.
- Despite some glowing online reviews, surprisingly few people I know have heard of it.
- On paper it offers strong value for money, clocking in at £12.50 for two courses or £14.50 for three.
The Canteen itself is basic, functional and homely, sitting on a stretch of Clifton Street where most of its neighbours are chicken joints and late-night shops. The menu changes approximately every three weeks – owner / chef Wayne Thomas reckons this gives the small kitchen enough time to be effortlessly turning out dishes like a well-oiled machine, but not so much that they get bored with them.
As the new menu had just come on, I wondered if I would be in for a slightly hit-and-miss experience. What I got instead was probably the best meal out of my short time in Cardiff. Starters of gnocchi with squash and mushrooms, and a vegetable purse with onion jam and cucumber “noodles” were richly flavoured and of exactly the right size to take the edge off an appetite, without blunting the desire to stuff main courses into one’s face.
The solitary meat dish, a beef rendang, was an ace bit of slow-cooked comfort food and got dispatched accordingly. Sticky toffee pudding could have been a couple of degrees stickier but was sauced-up enough to make this only a teensy gripe.
If you’re after dining in refined surroundings or having swanky bars to move onto afterwards then Canteen might not float your boat. If however you want to eat adventurously and without slaying your pocket, I’d recommend a trip down Clifton Street.
Here begins the first in an irregular series of posts in which I aim to promote the joys of the humble lentil and its brethren, through recipes which I eat regularly and with pleasure.
For the benefit of new readers or doubters, I’d like to state before going any further that I am not a vegetarian and cannot stand dull-tasting food. I just reckon that if you’re eating on a budget and are not doing fun things with pulses, then you are missing out.
Chickpea curry (Sindhi style)
The basis of this comes from Camellia Panjabi‘s ace 50 Great Curries of India. It’s got amazing depth of flavour due in part to the spice blend, and in part due to using onions cooked three different ways.
I can happily live on it for a week – this’ll serve three if you’re as greedy as me, up to six if less so. If you need to source ingredients then check my last post.
You will need:
- 2 cans chickpeas
- 3 onions
- A thumb-sized piece of ginger
- 3 cloves garlic
- 250g tomatoes, chopped
- 4 green cardamoms, cracked
- 8 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 15 peppercorns
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- A pinch asafoetida
- 4 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3/4 tsp mango powder (amchoor)
- About 200g baby spinach
- Chopped coriander, to serve
Ingredients get busy in the wok
- Chop two of your onions, grate or process the third along with your ginger and garlic.
- Drain the stock from your chickpea cans into a pan and add one chopped onion, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, cumin seeds, a tsp of salt and the asafoetida. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer gently with a lid on.
- Meanwhile heat your oil in a big heavy wok or similar. Fry the remaining onion until brown, then reduce heat slightly and add your pureed onion, ginger and garlic followed by chickpeas. Saute for 10 mins.
- Add turmeric, garam masala and coriander powders, pepper and mango powder and stir for one minute before adding chopped tomatoes. Leave to cook for a few minutes before straining in the remaining liquid from the other pan, which will now be rich and spicy.
- Now put in your spinach leaves and leave to cook down for 10 minutes or so, while you make ready some rice or flatbreads to serve with the curry. Season if necessary and top with chopped coriander.
The finished article