A Pasta Feast with Bread and Wine for under $7
A meal at your favorite Italian restaurant is expensive, but you can enjoy classic Italian pasta at home, with artisan bread and wine, cheaply and easily.
Each of these pasta dishes costs around $1/serving, the homemade loaf is around $1, and the Aldi wine is around $3.
First, let's start with the Pasta itself. You can make either Angel Hair Pomodoro or Fettucine Alfredo for around $1 per serving, in around 15 minutes. But to minimize costs, you must shop carefully. In this post, I will concentrate on how to buy ingredients and prepare pasta dishes so that the cost is low but the quality and flavor are high.
Tomatoes: This recipe calls for two cans of diced tomatoes. I recommended buying a case of diced tomatoes at Sam's Club or Costco. Sam's Club has an exceptionally good Member's Mark label brand for around $10 for twelve cans. In this way, you always have diced tomatoes in your pantry, and they will always be inexpensive. If a whole case of tomatoes is not in your budget, Walmart and Aldi also sell inexpensive diced tomatoes, for around $1/can. Aldi’s fire roasted version is particularly good. For a dish like Pomodoro, it really is all about the quality of the tomatoes, cheese, olive oil and basil.
Olive Oil: One item every cook should have on hand is a decent quality bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). I recommend that you buy a 1-2 liter bottle at Costco or Sam's, where I have found quality EVOO for around $7.50/liter. Buy a good bottle and keep it in a cool, dark place to preserve its freshness. You will use this amount prior to spoilage if you do even a modest amount of cooking with EVOO, and it is much cheaper to buy this way than to keep purchasing smaller bottles at your regular grocery.
Parmesan Cheese: Parmesan Cheese can be relatively cheap, or wildly expensive. Aldi sells a good basic Parmesan cheese for around $4.20 per half pound (8 ounces). Trader Joe's sells a particularly good domestic Parmesan for $7
per pound and it is typically my choice. Trader Joes also has an imported version for over $12/pound. Sam's Club sells an exceptionally good Parmigiana Reggiano for $12.46/pound, but you need to buy two pounds, which is a lot of Parmesan cheese. I spend around $7 for a wedge of Parmesan at Trader Joe's and I'm never disappointed. The cheese you buy is completely up to you and your budget, but this blog and especially this post are dedicated to cooking on a budget. So, I'll be using three ounces of my $7/pound cheese for around $1.31. The only kind of Parmesan you absolutely shouldn't buy for this recipe is pre-grated cheese or the kind that comes in a bottle. The pre-grated cheese is coated so it melts badly, and the quality of bottled Parmesan is often too lacking for a recipe of this type.
Pasta: I found a nice Walmart brand angel hair pasta made with 100% durum semolina for $0.92 per pound. Sam's Club sells a wonderful store brand angel hair for six pounds for around $5.50. In your local market, you can find inexpensive store brand pastas everyday priced around $1/pound and many are made with 100% durum semolina.
Herbs: This recipe calls for fresh basil, which can be quite expensive in some markets. One way around this is to use dried basil, which is fine, but I miss the fresh basil flavor. Another is to have an herb garden in your kitchen. I bought a nice organic basil plant from Trader Joes several weeks ago (along with a bunch of other herbs) for a kitchen window herb garden.
The cost of each plant was just under $2.50. If you have a sunny window, consider getting an herb garden growing--mine is oregano, basil, thyme, dill, sage and rosemary. Basil just keeps growing as you snip away at it, so you have no cost after getting your garden set up.
I decided not to plant parsley or cilantro because these herbs are so widely available and cheap, and I wanted to use my limited window space for herbs that are more expensive. If growing an herb garden not for you right now, Walmart sells a generous amount of fresh basil for $2.
A word on the cost and convenience of a loaf of homemade bread: I made this loaf for $0.83, and I will be posting on this loaf and similar artisan loaves in the next week or two.
I love artisan bread, but it has become so expensive, I think twice before buying it, even at discount groceries. So, consider making a loaf yourself. Many people believe they don't have the time to bake bread, but it often takes no more than 15 minutes to make the dough and get it rising. From there, you just need to check in on it every hour or so. From start to finish on this bread is around 3 hours, and the effect of having homemade bread at the table is worth keeping one eye on the dough for a little while. This bread recipe is from King Arthur Flour, and it boasts itself as "The Easiest Loaf of Bread You'll Ever Bake." See the link below. I absolutely love this recipe.
If you decide to try out this bread recipe link, there are two things that bring the cost down: buying flour in larger bags and buying a brick of Instant Yeast.
These bricks are sold at Sam's Club for $5 for two one-pound packs. If you are an infrequent baker, keep one and give one to your best baking bud. Otherwise, store both bricks in your freezer. And never pay for yeast at the supermarket again and never run out. If a trip to Sam's isn't possible, you can buy a one-pound brick on Amazon for a little over $6. If you cannot buy flour in bulk, Walmart sells five pound bags of bread flour cheaply, and even King Arthur brand Bread Flour is under $1/pound.
Serve your bread with either butter or a good olive oil dipping sauce. If you have purchased a good EVOO, making a good dipping sauce for your bread will be a cinch. Just add a mix of dried herbs--basil, oregano, etc. and add onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, and good salt. You can make it more elaborate with a little balsamic vinegar or finely minced garlic. You can even add fresh herbs. I personally like good olive oil with fresh basil and oregano.
Finally, add a bottle of nice wine. You can find a bottle of Whispering Owl Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio at Aldi for around $3 per bottle. Trader Joes has some Charles Shaw options in that range as well. This is not fine wine, but it is good wine. If you are on a budget, you can enjoy a bottle at dinner without concern over cost.
Angel Hair Pomodoro and Fettucine Alfredo
Angel Hair Pomodoro (Recipe for 4 is $4.50, $5.50 if you buy fresh basil)
1/3 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($0.25, Sam's Club)
3 cloves garlic, minced ($0.10)
2 cans (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes ($2, Sam's Club)
Salt and pepper to taste
12 ounces angel hair pasta ($0.75, Walmart)
2 t dried basil, or a generous handful of fresh basil, chopped (From your herb garden or Walmart at $1 in a pinch for fresh)
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese ($1.31, Trader Joes)
Fettuccine Alfredo (Recipe is $2.46 for 2-4 servings)
8 ounces fettucine pasta ($0.50, Walmart)
1/2 stick (1/4 c) of butter ($0.40, Aldi or Sam's Club)
1 c. Parmesan cheese, grated ($1.31, Trader Joes)
2 T whipping cream or half and half ($0.25)
Freshly ground black pepper
Angel Hair Pomodoro
Put several quarts of water in a large pot to boil. Add 1 T of salt for every 4 quarts of water. Bring to a full boil.
Heat 1/3 c good olive oil in a sauté’ pan. Add 3 cloves minced garlic. Cook for a minute or two and add 2 cans diced tomatoes. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until just below a simmer. Taste for salt.
3. Freshly grate 3 ounces (1 cup) good Parmesan cheese.
4. Once your pasta water is boiling, put angel hair pasta in your pot. It will take 2-4 minutes to cook your pasta, depending on whether you like it al dente or softer.
5. Drain your pasta and place in a bowl. Put in your tomato mixture, a handful of fresh basil cut in fine strips or dried basil and a cup of Parmesan. Toss to mix. Serve immediately with more Parmesan for grating.
6. If the pasta is dry, mix in a little pasta water. If you are storing it in the refrigerator, add a little more olive oil to keep it from sticking together.
7. Serve with freshly grated pepper and parmesan cheese.
8. This recipe will make four generously sized portions--it is simple to cut this recipe in half if you are eating alone. Save the second portion by adding a little olive oil and keeping it in a food saver container.
Put several quarts of water in a large pot to boil. Add 1 T of salt for every 4 quarts of water. Bring to a full boil
Grate 3 ounces of Parmesan Cheese, or 1 cup. Get your butter, cheese and cream ready to assemble your dish quickly.
3. Once your pasta water is boiling, put your pasta in the water. Put a sauté' pan near your pasta pan, on very low heat and melt 1/2 stick of butter.
4. Once your pasta is cooked to al dente, drain your pasta, retaining a cup of the water. Put your pasta immediately in the sauté' pan of butter and add 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese. Add 2 T of cream (or half and half) and stir. Add enough additional pasta water to make the mixture creamy.
5. I typically find the mixture doesn't need salt, but taste and correct salt.
6. Put on plates immediately and sprinkle with more cheese and freshly grated black pepper.
7. This recipe will make 4 modest sized portions (2 ounce) or 2 really generously sized portions. It does not keep well - make only what you will be eating immediately.