In April and May, National Public Radio featured a series on inexpensive gourmet dishes entitled “How Low Can You Go?” Although many of the dishes looked quite tasty, most of the dishes weren’t actually all that inexpensive, often narrowly getting below $10 to feed a family of four, and many involved arduous cooking processes. I decided to try out some of these recipes throughout the summer to see how I could take the recipes and reduce them down to a simple and very inexpensive form.
Sharon Guenther submitted this very simple and tasty fettuccine recipe to the “How Low Can You Go” contest. We decided to prepare it on a warm summer evening and serve a chilled white wine with it. Here’s the recipe she submitted:
1 lb. of good Fettucini
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
1/4 c. scallions, including tops, sliced crosswise
1/4 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 lb. fresh asparagus
1/4 chopped, fresh Italian parsley
Set a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, trim the tough ends of asparagus and place, single-layer, in a lightly oiled roasting pan. Lightly spray or brush olive oil on asparagus as well. Roast at 400 degree, 15 minutes or until it becomes aromatic but not mushy.
In a serving bowl, place lemon juice and zest, garlic, scallions, parsley and EVOO. Whisk together gently.Add salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper.
By this time, the water should be boiling so cook the fettucini until it is al dente.
When asparagus is done, cut it all crosswise, leaving the tops intact.
Drain pasta and add to ingredients in serving bowl. Toss to coat the pasta. Add asparagus and top with a generous amount of grated parmesan.
For the scallions, we just used fresh green onions – a simple and easy to grow substitute. We had the rest of the ingredients on hand except for the fettuccine (and I could have made that with some more time), the lemons, and the asparagus. Our total bill wound up being very close to $7 for the meal.
Here’s what we did. First, the ingredients:
You’ll notice two ingredients are missing right from the title: the fettuccine and the asparagus. These were already on their way to being cooked. The fettuccine was in a pan of water soaking (I often do the trick of getting the water to boiling, adding the pasta, then turning off the heat and letting it soak for 20-25 minutes in cooling water, as it saves a ton of energy) and the asparagus was freshly in the oven. I just took the asparagus stalks, chipped off the bottom of each, spread them out on a cookie sheet that had just a bit of canola oil rubbed all over the surface, and stuck the sheet in the oven. Here’s the asparagus, about to go in:
Those of you with a sharp eye will notice an unusual “ingredient” in the ingredient pic – a Ped Egg. Yes, that bastion of infomercials is actually really useful – but not on our feet.
We wound up with a PedEgg somewhere along the line – I honestly couldn’t tell you when. It was likely a gift from someone for some reason, because I can’t conceive of a reason why we would buy one.
So why is a PedEgg in this picture? It’s a great zester. All you have to do is rub it around lightly on the surface of a lemon or an orange or a lime – whatever you’re trying to get zest from – and it neatly collects inside the egg. In fact, here’s the zest of two lemons, added to some of the other chopped ingredients:
Perfect zest – and very easy! If you’re given a PedEgg at some point and have no idea what to do with it – or see a new one for just a dollar or two someday – pick it up. It’s the easiest zester I’ve ever tried.
Anyway, that bowl contains all of the other ingredients in the recipe. When the asparagus and fettuccine were finished, I chopped the asparagus up into smaller pieces, put the fettuccine and asparagus into this bowl, and mixed them:
(I look kind of bushed in that picture because it had been a very long day of waking up way too early and writing and jogging and chasing children.)
Anyway, after mixing it all up thoroughly, we transferred it to our treasured handmade pasta bowl, simply because it looks so nice in the middle of our table:
And here’s what our plates looked like. We served the pasta with applesauce and Virgin Chardonnay:
It was a big hit – everyone liked it. There was enough left over for my wife and I each to enjoy it for lunch the next day, meaning we got six meals out of it for $8 of ingredients – a cost per meal of about $1.33.
Changes I Would Make to Save Cost and Time
I would not make any changes to the recipe itself. However, with some thoughtful ordering, you can go from nothing at all to a finished meal on the table in about twenty minutes. Here’s how to do it.
First, get a pot of water on to boil before you do anything else. Then pre-heat the oven for the asparagus.
While the oven is preheating, cut the asparagus up and put it on the cookie sheet. We used just a bit of canola oil rubbed on the sheet to keep the asparagus from sticking. When the oven’s ready, pop in the asparagus for fifteen minutes.
When the water is boiling, toss in the fettuccine, then cut the heat immediately. Let the fettuccine rest in the water for twenty or twenty five minutes, tasting it near the end to see if it’s done yet. If the asparagus is mostly done by the time the water gets to boiling, you can also just boil the pasta to save some time, but ideally you want to have the asparagus finish 5 to 10 minutes before the pasta so you can cut up the asparagus and add it to the other ingredients.
While the asparagus and pasta are cooking, prep the other ingredients. Zest the lemon, peel it, and squeeze out the juice. Chop the scallions. Add the olive oil. Add the garlic. Get those ingredients all ready.
When the asparagus finishes, get it out and cut it into little pieces. Add it to the other ingredients and mix.
When the pasta finishes, drain it, then add it to the bowl and mix it thoroughly, then serve it immediately.