Destitution Cooking (A General Theory)

1 Dec

The trick to feeding yourself on a tight budget is to find a balance between cheap stuff that you can use to fill yourself up, and stuff that actually tastes of something.

The classic example of this is a very simple recipe from Southern Italy. The idea is that you cook up some pasta (most supermarkets do an ‘own brand’ or ‘basic’ version of spaghetti that you can pick up for pennies), and you make a very simple sauce to added flavour.

In this case you use some olive oil (basic stuff is fine, extra virgin olive oil would be wasted on this) fresh chillies and fresh garlic (you have to use fresh ingredients, if you use the dried stuff it’ll taste horrible).

Precise measurements don’t apply here. Cook enough pasta to feed yourself and whoever you cook for and use enough olive oil to coat the pasta. (NB authentic Italian cooking is about coating the pasta in the sauce, but not drowning it).

Basically splash some olive oil in the bottom of a sauce pan and add two cloves of garlic, and one chilli pepper chopped as fine or as coarsely as you like. (This is a rustic dish so please yourself and also work to your own level of skill with a knife. My chopping tends to be pretty coarse). I like to de seed the chilli because I don’t like things too hot, but again, please yourself. Some like it hot, after all, but if you’re new to cooking for yourself then I would urge caution.

Heat the sauce gently (if the garlic burns it will be bitter), the longer you heat the garlic and chilli the more it mellows out. (You can eat garlic raw if it’s very fresh but I would only do that in mayonnaise or humus because it’s pretty pungent and you’ll need to dilute it somehow).

Precise timings don’t matter, you just heat the sauce while the pasta is cooking. Sample a bit of garlic or chilli when the pasta’s cooked. If it’s soft and mellowed out enough for you, then it’s done.

Having recently discovered that I’m a coeliac, I now find that I have to go for the gluten-free option. You can get gluten-free pasta and it’s not too bad, but it’s more expensive and I wouldn’t recommend the spaghetti because it tends to stick together, in my experience, and it’s brittle.

If you don’t want to use spaghetti for this dish, use any kind of pasta. I don’t recognise many rule regarding pasta. I think you can try any kind of pasta with any sauce if that’s what you fancy (Or if it’s what you happen to have in the cupboard).

What you can also do is try using this basic sauce with things other than pasta. I tried it with rice, but white rice tends to be a little too bland, you either need to add another ingredient (try olives or a tin of sardines). Or you could try other kinds of  rice, brown rice maybe or wild rice.

 The trick is to experiment. Find combinations that you like, but the basic principle remains the same. Match cheap and filling ingredients (which tend to be a bit bland), with other ingredients that you can use in small quantities to add flavour. EG garlic, chillies, herbs, (chorizo is really good because when you heat it you get a lot of strongly flavoured oil that will go a long way in flavouring rice, beans, pulses, whatever).

Another way of adding flavour to otherwise bland ingredients is to make a basic tomato sauce. The most basic variant is to take a tin of tomatoes and heat it with some olive oil and chopped garlic for 15/20 mins. You can add chilli (fresh or dried), herbs or spices to suit your tastes or style. A relatively small amount of this mix can be added to pasta, beans, rice or some artful combination of  the above.

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