November 22, 2010

$5 Dinner: Spaghetti with Pepper and Cheese & Spicy, Lemony Broccoli


Sometimes I’m a guest on radio shows about various lifestyle topics I feel really passionate about, like how to live a life that feels luxe without breaking the bank. Recently, I was on a show talking about saving money on groceries in November. The segment idea was based on the cost of the holiday meal itself. Many hosts are spending the equivalent of their entire monthly grocery budget on a single meal. And that means having to get by with less than usual on the rest of your meals this month.

Some people know that terrified let’s-rub-two-pennies-together-and-call-it-dinner feeling. It is an insistent, heavy stress to not know where how you’re going to get by. This weekend, when my own future looked uncertain, these old familiar feelings came rushing back, as dogged and insidiously intimate as ever. It’s as if your normal thoughts of are now overlaid with a pertinacious sense of dread. Worry trails you everywhere. On a walk in the park: The yellow leaves sure look pretty. How am I ever going to pay the rent? It’s an unrelenting downer of a companion.

But I had the feeling that the radio host I was talking to had never been in this situation. He couldn’t understand being so low on money that you choose to make your own wholesome, homemade bread with pantry ingredients instead of buying a supermarket loaf for $3.99. His version of roughing it was a grocery store rotisserie chicken. He had probably never chosen dried beans over canned; the necessity of that choice for some was lost on him.

And that’s fine, in a way. I wouldn’t wish the feeling of grocery store poverty on anyone. To worry constantly about money is to lug over your shoulder a sack of bricks that you have to carry everywhere; it immediately affects all aspects of your quality of life. But I did feel, talking to this fellow on the radio, that it is a real badge of honor, and an important life skill to know how to still make your life feel beautiful, your home cozy, and your relationships nurtured with no money. It involves a little creativity sometimes, and often a bit of extra elbow grease. But to know how to create something out of nothing is to feel armed with the sense that you can provide for yourself and the people around you no matter what. And that’s a feeling I wish on everyone.

Spaghetti with Pepper and Cheese
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 2

2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces dried spaghetti
1 tablespoons butter
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Cook spaghetti in well-salted water to your al dente tastes in a large, wide-bottomed pot. Drain spaghetti, reserving 3/4 cups of pasta cooking water.

Heat the olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add drained spaghetti and 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water and step back, since this will splatter.

Add butter, half of the cheese, and ground pepper and toss together with tongs. Taste, adding more pasta water, cheese, pepper or salt to taste.

Serve immediately, sprinkling with reserved cheese and an extra grind or two of black pepper.

Spicy, Lemony Broccoli
Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon lemon zest
crushed red pepper, to taste
1 head broccoli, separated into florets

Steam broccoli until bright green and tender. Heat olive oil over moderately-high heat. Add garlic, lemon zest, and red pepper, and sauté for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add broccoli and sauté for just a couple of minutes.

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  • Kim: This is totally what I’m making for dinner tonight! You are my inspiration for all things edible…and pretty…and fun loving. Okay, maybe I should just leave it as: you are my inspiration.5 years ago

  • Christine S.: I love that dinner and have made it frequently for my family. Easy, cost effective!

    And, I know how you feel. I have been in the situation you described way too many times. Those of us who struggle do so because of the choices we’ve made to live a life that is full in other ways. For me, living on less happened through divorce and the raising of two kids on my own. However, as much as I wish I was in a successful marriage, it wasn’t to be; and the alternative life of having money that gave one form of security wasn’t worth the rest of my life feeling like crap and having an affect on the lives of my children.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Sara! I know this won’t line your pockets with green but please know that you are so appreciated by all of your followers and we are grateful to have you in our lives daily:)5 years ago

  • Lydia: Good thoughts- I hear you with the constant worrying- and I particularly liked the post you linked to on grocery store poverty.
    I appreciate your budget meal suggestions, but my problem is buying budget ingredients- I talk about how I need to spend less on groceries all the time, but then I go out and thoughtlessly spend $13 on 2 pieces of fish, like I just did yesterday. And beat myself up about it after.
    The first story you link to mentions splurging on groceries- well, that’s what I do too much of. Any ideas on how to do that less? Not sure if I’m explaining myself well. You’re awesome, thanks!5 years ago

  • Kristina Strain: I’m wearing my badge of honor proudly! Love it. The two recipes you posted reminded me of a terrific shortcut I saw recently, in Bon Appetit. You could throw the broccoli in with the spaghetti for the last couple of minutes, instead of steaming it. Saves a dirtied pot, and some time as well.

    This meal sounds delicious.5 years ago

  • Brianne: That was exactly what I needed to hear today. And I agree with you, it’s a great skill to understand how to make do with little, while at the same time making things great for your family!5 years ago

  • Sara Rose: I believe I’ll be making this but subbing in asparagus since I’ve got that around right now. I do adore when people don’t ‘get’ the reality of being poor because it’s so far out of their stratosphere. It actually makes me grateful for the ‘dried beans’ choices, which is a weird thing to admit.

    A friend I adore, but who is VERY wealthy and happened to marry a VERY wealthy man, was at our house when I was prepping for our Thanksgiving meal we give. This was last week. She tchotchked “I adore those gourds you used as your centerpiece! How quaint and ironic!”

    I cherrily said “Thanks! I’m roasting them to make soup this weekend!” and she was confounded. Utterly and TOTALLY. I had to smile as she spluttered on about how she had never even THOUGHT of roasting squash to make soups because I got them for .99 a piece to make enough soup to feed us over the weekend and freeze for some other weekend too.

    Happily, she recovered gracefully. She went on to ruefully admit that she probably should have listened to her mother and grandmother quite a bit more closely when it came to home cooking and complemented me by saying “Apparently you did. You’re a credit to them.” Why, thank you.

    And you, Miss S., are a credit to your mama as well. Muah.5 years ago

  • Brook: This will likely be anathema to you, but have you considered putting a donation button on your site? You give so many of us so much pleasure with your thoughtful posts. Will you let us give you a hand? You can always pay it forward when you’re flush. Just a suggestion : )5 years ago

  • Kristina Strain: If there was a donation button on POP, I’d click it. :)5 years ago

  • Sarah J: Sarah, I’m proud to wear my badge and thankful for the way you articulate what I’m constantly striving for. Thank you.5 years ago

  • Kim, What an honor! So happy to be that.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, Christine. And that fact does not escape and this community here is something I’m incredibly grateful for.

    Lydia, I feel you. Are you thoughtlessly splurging just because you haven’t planned ahead? Or because the fish is singing its siren song? Maybe if you could figure out why you’re splurging on ingredients. It might be because you don’t have a stash of recipes with pantry basics that add up to something great, so you feel like you have to spring for truffle oil or something. Why not try identifying a handful of recipes you like that aren’t expensive to make and making a weekly rotation out of them and having one night be spring-for-organic-fish-and-truffle-oil night?

    Kristina, Yes, yes you could do that! Why didn’t I, doh? One thing I knew that I didn’t want to do was combine the spaghetti with the broccoli. I just don’t like that as much as spaghetti with cauliflower.

    Sara Rose, You are the queen of the thrifty genius and making things nice with very little. So glad you were able to show your friend the light.

    Brook and Kristina, Whoops, I didn’t mean to sound all “woe is me”! You can always click on ads if you’re feeling generous. 😉 Or just tell your friends about POP. You’re both sweet.

    Sarah J, Badges for everyone! I love it even more than my Girl Scout Orienteering badge. 😉5 years ago

  • Maureen: This might sound weird, but I wish every American with means would go hungry for a bit. I was a college graduate, moved to Alaska, knew the cost of living was high, but was shocked at the prices for rent and food. I was freaking hungry, I would get paid, fill my gas tank, buy food for my dog, and anything left was for me. I lived on potatoes and butter for a year. I never ever thought of asking for food stamps, even though I would have qualified, I figured I graduated from one of the finest public colleges in the country-why would I apply?

    Going hungry, seriously hungry-not an end in sight kind of hungry, is an eye opening experience. So I can sympathize with your feelings like the radio host wasn’t getting the point. I know I had it better than so many people, because I did have a paycheck, but potatoes and butter do get old after a bit. My circumstances improved greatly, which I knew they would, because I had the benefit of a fine education. That feeling of not knowing where your next meal would come from is so scary, and it gives you such a sympathy for people without the means that I was lucky enough to have.5 years ago

  • wendy: I just want to applaud you for even keeping a stiff upper lip about it all! It is harder for some of us than others. We can not even buy cheap pasta as we are gluten free. We eat alot of beans and vegies. There are hundreds of different kinds of beans out there! Moosewood cookbooks are a great resource for cheap vegi dishes, that, if you are resourceful enough, you can add meat to for company(or not). We serve vegi to just about everyone with loads of praise for the taste of the food. The attitude you have about it, no matter what “it” is, is the most telling. Company is more impressed by company than by what you can offer them. My favorite thing to think for the past 20 years is “this too shall pass”. And it always does.You have to live your life, not pass through it. Blessings to you and all who do know what you are talking about. Understanding to all those who don’t.5 years ago

  • Tori: This sounds absolutely delicious!!!! The post title and the lovely picture sold me.5 years ago

  • Diane Carol: The sense of well being I had while raising my two girls on a shoestring was the best I’ve ever had. While sometimes I’d get worn down, the accomplishment of making sure they were fed, well dressed (maybe in hand-me-downs, but clean and pressed!) and most of all happy….but keeping them busy with free things where laughter and sharing was of the highest priority…..that was the best. Today, at 29 and 28 years old….they will tell you, they never felt poor. They felt loved. And I did that. I also learned how to entertain for almost free….making a simple appetizer, and having a “get-together” rather than a “party”… friends all brought a dish, and a bottle of wine and those parties were the best….crammed into my miniscule kitchen with the music playing, smiles on everyones face….we were all struggling one way or another (stone soup for parties!)…. So – money….well, its not all that it is cracked up to be!5 years ago

  • domestikate: At the moment I feel like I’ve got the worry but not your ability to manage it! Thanks for the cheery inspiration!5 years ago

  • Maureen, Sheesh, what a time! I bet you don’t really feel the same way about potatoes and butter anymore, do you?

    Wendy, Beans and legumes are the best when you’re roughing it. Even a red lentil soup can seem luxurious topped with cheap caramelized onions. Thanks for your about “this, too, shall pass,” and living your life rather than passing through it.

    Diane Carol, I love that story. Not feeling poor, but loved. Sounds like your girls are very, very lucky.5 years ago

  • Lydia: I actually try to do a meal plan for the week, or at least keep a list of meals we can cook from the ingredients on hand. The fish was planned, just not where to buy it from, and I saw this brand new seafood shop that was all Ocean-Wise products…well, what could I do? I actually chose one of the cheaper types available. Yipes. At least it ended up stretching for over 2 meals and it was delicious.

    My other problem is I’m addicted to baking, and butter, flour, good chocolate etc. adds up. That’s a great idea, I will work on planning more budget meals, and I’ll be checking your archives for ideas on what to cook! Tonight is split pea and ham soup with your recipe for Gregor’s dill bread. Cheers!5 years ago

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A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.
- Henry David Thoreau