Slow Food USA laid down the gauntlet: Prepare a slow food meal from whole foods, for less than $5 per serving. At $5, these meals are less expensive than fast food, and support the ideals and the budget many of us have for feeding our families. I’ve been looking forward to posting a meal for a few weeks now.
Given that the challenge date falls on Saturday, there was no question how I was going to approach my challenge. Saturday is farmers’ market day for our small business, and we would be covering two markets, Western Wake Farmers’ Market and The Saturday Market. Our family MO is we split up to cover these venues, and each of us does a little shopping, with no consultation with the others (except to make sure we don’t duplicate items) – this way everybody gets to have something that they wanted during the upcoming week. Sometimes we have meal ideas when we buy, other times the ingredients just speak to us. I was simply going to work with whatever we brought home today, with no preconceived notion about what to prepare.
Today turned out to be a banner day for fresh food. It’s change of season, so our market bags were overflowing with loot: first-push mustard greens, Sungold cherry tomatoes, shitake mushrooms, pears, whole chicken and chicken livers, fall asparagus, flounder and swordfish, eggs, queso fresco, butter beans, okra, and a few things I’m sure I’ve forgotten. In the end, two things spoke to me: fall asparagus, because I have never before encountered it (the vendor told me that when asparagus plants become very mature, they produce a little in the fall, in addition to the usual spring harvest), and the swordfish steaks, because we don’t really enjoy frozen seafood, so our habit is to eat seafood starting Saturday evening and keep eating it every night until we finish what we bought on Saturday (so weekends are usually fish nights, as is Monday about half the time).
The final dish wound up being Homemade Pappardelle Pasta in Brown Butter Lemon Cream Sauce, with Lemon-Caper Swordfish Steaks and Autumn Asparagus and Sweet Red Peppers.
After a long, raw day at rainy farmers’ markets, we were all in the mood for a more hearty meal than the summer fare we’ve enjoyed till now. My thoughts turned to pasta. While I have no moral objection to boxed pasta, after a long week I needed the kind of therapy that comes from making pasta from scratch. And while I love making pasta dough, I lose patience with tedious preparations on Saturday nights, since I usually don’t start making dinner till after 5 PM. Pappardelle noodles are lazy man’s noodles: rich and delicious, but quick and easy to make: literally 5 minutes to prepare dough, and about 10 minutes to roll and cut after the dough has rested for a half hour.
I also don’t want to fuss with sauce after working all day, so a brown butter sage lemon cream sauce was just what the doctor ordered. It’s a simple, delicious way to dress pasta in no time flat.
Swordfish steaks were a last minute addition to my market basket from Not Lin of Locals Seafood, after I realized the the single whole fish he reserved for me was not going to be enough to feed four people well. We had a quick negotiation about them, a calculus that involves the exchange of market goods and cash in varying amounts each week. I’ve adjusted my meal cost calculations to account for the true street price of the ingredients I used, however, so you can rest assured that you can reproduce my meal for the amounts I quote.
The star of my meal, however, was fall asparagus. Gertrude’s Garden Gems had this unusual offering, and it could not be passed up, or passed over this evening. Asparagus is a spring treat with a short season, and having it in the fall was an extraordinary treat. I decided to pair it with peppers from Redbud Farm.
Here’s the photo blog on how to pull the meal together:
That’s all there is to it. It was about 30 minutes of prep, 30 minutes of waiting for dough to rest, and maybe 10 or 15 minutes active cooking.
Here’s the costing:
|Total Cost||Portions||Cost per Portion|
|Protein||fish||$ 13.50||4||$ 3.38|
|Capers||$ 0.20||4||$ 0.05|
|Pasta||flour||$ 0.52||5||$ 0.10|
|eggs||$ 1.14||5||$ 0.23|
|Sauce||Butter||$ 0.27||5||$ 0.05|
|Lemon||$ 0.33||5||$ 0.07|
|Cream||$ 0.28||5||$ 0.06|
|Veg||Asparagus||$ 1.75||4||$ 0.44|
|Peppers||$ 1.00||4||$ 0.25|
|Marco Polo||EVOO||$ 0.25||5||$ 0.05|
|Salt||$ 0.04||4||$ 0.01|
|Pepper||$ 0.04||4||$ 0.01|
|Total per portion:||$ 4.69|
We achieved the Slow Food criteria pretty easily, and had a luxurious meal for less than the cost of a fast food meal. You can do it, too!
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Yesterday was perfect for soup, as we watched the rainy tail of hurricane Irene move north.
Earlier in the day my fishmonger, Not Lin, hooked me up with my usual weekly fix of whole fish. (I call him Not Lin because after months of calling him Lin, his wife one day said to me “his name’s Not Lin”. Actually, his name is Ryan, so you don’t have to call him Not Lin.) Yes, sadly it’s gotten to the point where obtaining whole fish is a special-order proposition. And that, in fact, is the reason for this post.
Because I don’t understand why people prefer to buy fish filets. So much waste! So much expense! And why? It takes just minutes to filet a fish, and there are so many nice things you can do with fish heads and carcasses. Even if you can’t use the heads and carcasses immediately, they freeze well, or make stock from them and freeze the stock. (Funny aside: my daughter turned on the Food Network show Chopped after dinner last night, and one of the mystery basket ingredients were fish heads. No kidding. If any of the wanna-be chefs had ever worked with whole fish before in their lives, which apparently they had not, they may have made a respectable showing. The judges had to select the one that was least bad, in my opinion.)
So I thought we would use this blog, whose point is to teach people how to deal with “difficult” ingredients and teach lost (among the average eater) techniques, to teach how to begin with a whole fish (OK, ours were gutted before we got them), and turn them into filets, fish stock, and a beautiful cioppino. Cioppino is fish stew, usually credited to San Francisco fishermen of Italian descent. Traditionally, it has a tomato base. Making cioppino is kind of like making chili – there are lost of recipes out there, and there is really no right or wrong way to do it. Following a recipe is likely to lead to frustration, because so many of them have exotic, or at least lots of diverse ingredients. Who buys like 5 kinds of seafood in a single shopping trip? Not me. So feel free to adapt and use whatever YOU have on hand.
Now for a little costing analysis.
The fish were $30. They made 8 portions of cioppino, and 4 portions of flounder filets. $30/12 portions = $2.50 per portion. And that doesn’t account for the dog food I got out of it, or the extra fish stock I froze.
The cioppino used probably $3 worth of aromatics, $2 worth of potatoes, and let’s say $1 for tomato paste and herbs. The tomatoes we canned; I used one jar, and we get about 9 jars out of a $25 box of tomatoes, so that jar was worth $2.77. Total for ingredients exclusing fish is 3+2+1+2.77=6.77, divided by 8 portions is $0.84.
Add $0.84+$2.50 = $3.34 per portion. You can’t buy a fast food meal for that amount.
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