Pleasant Peasant Fare
July 15, 2012 1:47 AM   Subscribe

Help me stretch my budget with new 'old' recipes? Looking for 'heritage' meals that might be technically challenging or time-costly, but use cheap ingredients.

I have all the time in the world to make meals from scratch (making stock the day before, simmering things for hours, and so on), but not a lot of money in my grocery budget.
Metafilter cooks of all cultures, do you have any low-cost traditional or regional dishes in your repertoire to suggest? For example, meals that use little meat, or cheap cuts.
I really want to hear about dishes if you regularly make them yourself, and that have a bit of history behind them - (more red beans and rice, less quick tuna pasta).
posted by Catch to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
All cheap cuts of meat can be made delicious by slow cooking. This is especially true of pork shoulder. You don't have to do anything to it except put it in the oven at a low heat for 8 hours and it will be crispy on the outside and melty on the inside. But by all means surround it in cooking apples for the last hour or two...

For cheap beef my favourite stew has always been this greek one called stifatho. I've been making this since I was a little child and my mother found it in some ancient Middle Eastern cookbook. The recipe I use includes currants but I can't find a link to that now.

One thing that I like to cook for a really long time and comes from a very old recipe is pasta sauce. If you can get a source of tomatoes that have flavour ( maybe when they are in season? ) then you can just chop them up, and cook them in a big pot with a lot of garlic, salt, black pepper and parsley. Cook it for as long as you want on a low heat and it'll just keep getting better and better. You can also do the same thing with cheap canned tomoatoes. They will generally have more flavour than anything fresh that you can buy in a supermarket anyway.
posted by aychedee at 2:59 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a massive mountain of possibilities actually. I have a great book called European Peasant Cookery that focuses on these sort of slow cooked, cheap meals. Lots of stews of cheaper cuts of meat. If you have the patience they can actually be so much better and richer than an expensive steak.

- Lamb and Lentil Stew. (Cheap Lamb cut - neck say) Onion, Celerey, Carrot, Thyme White Wine some Lentils)
- Goulash (Cheap Braising / sStewing Beef, Onions and loads of Paprika - serve with potatoes or rice)
- Ribollita (White bean soup / stew cannellini, Cavelo Nero (Black Kale, or normal Kale if its all you can get).
- Scotch Broth (Turnips, Lamb Neck Onion, Celery and some Barley)
- Ox Tongue (Brine for 4-5 days then simmer in fresh water for 4 hours)
- Lambs Tongue with Turnips and Kale
- Ratatouille (Eggplant, Courgettes, Red Pepper)
- French Onion Soup ( Loads of Onions of different sorts , chicken broth slowly cooked for 1-2 hours)
- Beetroot Soup
- Slowly Roasted Cheap cuts of Meat : Lamb Shoulder cooked for 4-5 hours at 130C, Pork Belly cooked for 3 hours or more.
- Sauerbraten: cheap beef (or traditionally horse) soured in Vinegar for 3-4 days then slowly boiled. Serve with Sauerkraut and potatoes.
- Rabbits braised in White wine (you can get whole rabbits for about 4 quid in London. they are so cheap)
- Coq au Vin (jointed cheap chicken cooked in read wine) - maybe not so cheap actually.
posted by mary8nne at 3:05 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

This would be a great book for you. There are lots of good recipes from very simple to complex to crazy. Everything we've tried from the book has been great, and so cheap. Check the UK Amazon site for a lot more reviews.
posted by hazyjane at 3:54 AM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: This is an awesome recipe, and can be time-consuming, if you make your own ricotta.
If you've never made it, I swear, you'll slap yourself for not making it all along; it's that much better than store-bought.
Try and use unpasteurized milk (you'll be taking it past pasteurization temps anyhow...), goat's milk, even better.
Don't toss the whey. It's great in nearly all baked goods calling for water; bread, biscuits, batters (pancakes, waffles) etc.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi
Recipe courtesy Scott Conant
Prep Time: 15 min
Inactive Prep Time:
Cook Time: 30 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 6 servings
• 1 pound cow's milk ricotta, drained in a strainer for at least 2 hours
• 1/4 cup spinach, sauteed and finely chopped
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
• 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 3 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• Pinch grated nutmeg
• 2 egg yolks
• Olive oil, for coating
• 4 tablespoons melted butter, for re-heating

Porcini Puree:
• Olive oil
• 3 shallots, julienned
• 3 ounces fresh porcini mushrooms, sliced
• 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, hydrated, then squeezed dry, liquid reserved
• 1 ounce brown beech mushrooms, sliced
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• Pinch chili flakes
For the gnudi: Mix the ricotta, spinach, Parmesan, flour, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg and eggs together. Make 2 small balls and test cook by placing them in boiling water until they float, then shock in iced water. Taste. If they are too soft and don't hold together, add more flour or breadcrumbs and test again.
Portion all of the gnudi and roll into balls. Cook in boiling water until they float, about 2 minutes, and shock in iced water. Coat in olive oil and reserve until ready to serve.

For the porcini puree: To caramelize the shallots, heat a large saute pan over high heat, add a few tablespoons of olive oil, then add the shallots. Allow to color on one side, then lower the heat and stir. Slowly cook until soft and sweet, about 5 minutes. Saute the mushrooms together with the shallots until lightly colored and tender, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and chili, and sweat for an additional 3 minutes. Pour the liquid from the hydrated porcini mushrooms into the pan. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes.
Transfer the contents into a blender and puree until the consistency is smooth. Add water if the mixture gets too thick in the blender and it stops moving. Add olive oil while blending to finish and taste for seasoning. Strain the sauce. Reserve until ready to serve.
To serve: Warm the porcini puree and reserve. Reheat the gnudi in a pan with salted simmering water and the melted butter. Plate the porcini puree, place gnudi on top and top with Parmesan cheese.
posted by JABof72 at 4:04 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi, thanks for the answers so far!
I don't want to threadsit, but before I turn in for the night, I don't know if I made it clear enough in the original question - what I'm looking for is specific recipes that you've made regularly yourself, not so much general techniques.
I have a ton of cookbooks, but I learn best from other cooks, and I love the "if you don't chop your carrots like this you are a heathen!" kind of tips that surface when someone knows a recipe well.
posted by Catch at 4:16 AM on July 15, 2012

For more cooking details that I think people underplay that will make the difference between an average meal and a great meal: (these may be obvious to some people but I only really noticed the importance in the last year or so).

1. for braised meats and Stews or say Bolognese sauce most recipes underestimate the amount of time the initial softening / browning of Onions takes or underestimate how long you should soften the vegetables in oil before adding the braising liquid. I think its important to do this properly to develop the flavours. for a good bolognese sauce I will often spend a good 30 mins just on the onions carrot and celery before adding the meat.

2. Also it really is necessary to brown your meat in small batches to avoid it 'stewing' in its own juices. AND you want to have the pan really hot. as you actually don't want to cook it on the inside at all at this stage. you just want to quickly scorch the outer layer. Then add cold liquid and slowly bring to the boil. the time spent at sub 60C is actually good as the meats own enzymes will start to soften the flesh.

3. when 'boiling' meats such as lambs neck and tongues if you really don't want the water to boil. Ideally cooking it at about 90C for 3 hours or so will make it so much softer than 2 hours at 100C. Due to protein compacting

4. When boiling potatoes always add the potatoes to COLD water and slowly bring to the boil. it takes longer but This stops the outside from cooking so much faster than the inside so you get a more even texture throughout. So they don't end up flaky.
posted by mary8nne at 4:45 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recommend this one a lot as a breakfast dish: Dutch Babies.

3 eggs
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Put your magic pan in the oven. (I use an ancient cast iron frying pan with high-ish sides.) Set oven to 450 degrees.

Whisk together the eggs until they're frothy (I use a mixer). Add milk and continue to whisk. You want to make everything as frothy as possible. Sift together flour and salt. Add this mixture, a little bit at a time, to the egg and milk froth, scraping the sides of the bowl down to catch any powdered stuff that gets flung up there. Melt about 2 tablespoons of butter (30 seconds in microwave), and slowly add to the mixture. Give everything another good whisk.

Your pan should be at 450 degrees by now. Remove it from the oven and rub down the inside with butter to coat. Starting in the middle of the pan and working outwards in a spiral, pour your mixture into the pan quickly and put it back into the oven.

Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Open the oven quickly and gently close it again. Drop temperature to 350 and bake for 8-10 minutes.

What comes out is a poofy pancake-like dish that's perfect with fresh fruit, syrup, ice cream or whatever else you prefer on your pancakes. Serve immediately. (Pro-tip: A pizza wheel works wonders in cutting it apart.)

Now look, if it flops the first time, don't despair. People have all sorts of theories about the temperature of ingredients (room temp!) but for my money the secret is in the whisking the hell out of it and sifting the heavy stuff. Plus, I have a magic pan. Anyway, good luck -- this is a great way to feed several hungry people at once and it looks more impressive than its simple ingredients suggest.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:52 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: After your update, okay, in that case, how about pizza. This recipe is absolutely delicious, I promise.

Thin Crust Pizza Base (makes two bases):

230 grams flour
1 (7 g) packet active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 T olive oil
around 120 ml warm water (to get the exact right temperature, use 60ml cold water from the tap and 60ml water that has just boiled, mix together before adding to the recipe)

In a large bowl, mix the flour, dried yeast, sugar and salt. Add the olive oil and slowly add water until the dough comes together. Flour a work surface and kneed the dough for 4 minutes until it becomes smooth. Shape into a ball, rub with a little olive oil and place in a bowl covered with a warm, wet cloth. Leave in a warm place (I put mine on the boiler or in the airing cupboard) until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Knock the air out of the dough. Split in half. At this point you can freeze one or both of the bases. To use it, defrost in the fridge or on a countertop, then roll out as normal. So, roll out the dough on a floured surface and place on a preheated pizza stone (optional but gives a great results). Make sure you put the pizza on the stone before adding the toppings or else it's really tricky to get everything onto the stone intact!

Top with:

Italian Pizza Sauce (makes enough for 2 pizzas)

2 T olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 400 g tin of plum tomatoes (or regular, but plum will be a bit nicer)
2 tsp dried basil or dried Italian herbs
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper

In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over slow heat. Add the garlic, sliced, and saute for 1 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes, dried herbs, sugar, salt and pepper. Increase the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes to reduce. Then use a hand blender and process the sauce until completely smooth.

Spread half the sauce (you can freeze the other half) onto your pizza base. Then add whatever toppings you like. I like slices of goat's cheese, tomatoes, black olives, rocket and fresh basil. Or I will also admit to liking mozzarella, jalapeno and pineapple, which I know sounds rank but really goes well together.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top, then bake for 12-15 minutes in a preheated 240 C / 475 F oven. Enjoy.
posted by hazyjane at 7:39 AM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: Although I'm not Italian, I did grow up with an Italian (really, Sicilian American) step-father, so I have a special place in my heart for that kind of cuisine. One of my favorite dishes, and undoubtedly the cheapest of our old standbys, is pasta e fagioli ("pasta fazool" to us 'mericans), or, as it was also called in my house, ditalini and beans. It doesn't take long to make at all—basically just as long as it takes to cook pasta—but it is cheap and delicious. (Note: If you order this in a restaurant, it will often be a soup. That's not what this recipe is like.) Over the years, I've altered it a bit from my parents' recipe, but here we go:

—Small pasta of some kind, cooked al dente. Ditalini works best in my opinion, but for some reason none of the grocery stores I frequent in Massachusetts ever seem to sell it (never had a problem finding it in New York), so I usually end up with elbows.
—Cut up some garlic (I like thin slices for this, but if you don't like tasting that much garlic at once, which some people don't, you could just as easily chop it up really fine), saute it in some olive oil for a few minutes.
—Dump in some cannellini beans, including the liquid, and simmer. (If I remember correctly, I usually go with two 15–16 ounce cans per pound of pasta, but you could do more or less. If you use dried beans, obviously you'll have to adjust this a bit.) Toss in some fresh chopped basil if you have it, or dried if you don't, and some roasted red pepper flakes, if you like that sort of thing 9which you should). Also toss in a bit of finely grated cheese (I like romano) and allow it to melt in nicely. Or you could make it like my parents and skip the basil and cheese. Stir occasionally to keep the beans from sticking.
—Serve with the beans placed atop a bowl of pasta, garnish with more fresh basil if you wish, and sprinkle with a bit more cheese and red pepper if you'd like. (I prefer thick slivers of romano on top instead of powdery, but I also usually don't have that in the house.)

End result: Fully belly and happy heart. Mangia!

Pro tip: The same bean-thing is also great over brown rice, with or without a lightly sauteed green like spinach, chard, or broccoli rabé. Really, I just love cannellini beans. (Usually I ditch the red pepper when using rice and a green instead of pasta, but otherwise I cook them the same way.)
posted by divisjm at 7:42 AM on July 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Lentil soup: dice and sauté/sweat 1 onion, a couple stalks of celery, and two big carrots. If you want to mix it up, also add diced winter squash at this stage. Once the veggies are soft, pour in 1c split lentils (I use red), 1c whole lentils (I use beluga), and about 5c stock. Simmer until the split lentils nearly (or entirely) disappear into the liquid. The spices I use in here vary--usually there's a bay leaf or two added at the beginning and plenty of salt and pepper at the end. You can also add a dried smoked chili pepper or two when you add the water, or some garam masala, or whatever spices you like really.

I also make roasted chicken a lot. You don't need a roasting pan. An oven-safe skillet big enough to hold the chicken is fine, if you plunk it on there on top of roughly-chopped veggies (quartered onions, whatever else is in the kitchen...) This is the technique I tend to use.
Buying chickens whole is cheap and delicious, and once you pick off all the meat the carcasses make good stock. Actually, general cooking tip: I keep a bag of bones in my freezer and another of root vegetable trimmings, and once I have time to make stock (this is frequently also laundry day) I simmer them until tasty with a bay leaf and more carrots and an onion.
My other frugal and fairly traditional cooking tip is to get a rice cooker. Rice is cheap and filling, and a foundation for tons of meals.
posted by mismatched at 7:46 AM on July 15, 2012

Er, when I said "roasted red pepper" I meant "crushed red pepper," but I'm sure you would have figured that out.
posted by divisjm at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: Saisi, which is sort of a ground beef stew, is one of the Bolivia recipes that I've kept in my repertoire because it is fairly easy to adapt to readily available Western supermarket staples. This recipe is pretty much how I approach it, except I use frozen peas and a 14-oz can of diced tomatoes because I am a a lazy cheapskate, and both are cheaper and easier in that form than they are fresh. I also usually add some grated carrot (some = a medium/large carrot's worth).

(An authentic Bolivian would also take a carrot in one hand and a paring knife in the other and somehow miraculously turn that into minuscule carrot mince without so much as contacting a cutting board, but seriously, there's no need to be that antediluvian about it.)
posted by drlith at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I haven't made this Savory Bread & Butter Pudding myself, but I recently made the cheese muffins from the same contest and they were really good. What made me think of it is that it's a dish which is good for using up odds and ends that you happen to have laying around. Slightly stale bread, random greens, leftover meat, whatever cheese you have on hand.
posted by anaelith at 11:15 AM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: Old favorite, much tinkered with by my mother and myself:

Split Pea Soup for Two (doubles easily)
1 cup green split peas, soaked overnight in 3 cups water
1 stalk celery
1 bay leaf
1/2 an onion, scored on the cut side (if doubling recipe, used 2 halves, scored on cut side)
1 small potato, diced (wash it but no need to peel it)
1 small carrot, diced (optional but I usually include it)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (optional but I usually include it)
1 ham bone, 1 ham hock, hunk of leftover cooked ham,
posted by gudrun at 12:44 PM on July 15, 2012

My favorite bean dish has to be cassoulet. It can be cheap to make if you use sausage or chicken for the majority of the protein component. Otherwise the dish is mostly beans, stock, breadcrumbs and love.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 12:53 PM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: Ack, ok, did not mean to hit post then!

Here is the full recipe:

Old favorite, much tinkered with by my mother and myself:

Split Pea Soup for Two (doubles easily)

1 cup split peas, soaked overnight in 3 cups water, and then drained of water (will be wet after you drain them and that is ok)
1 stalk celery
1 bay leaf
1/2 an onion, scored well on the cut side (if doubling recipe, used 2 halves, scored on cut sides)
1 small potato, diced (wash it but no need to peel it)
1 small carrot, diced (optional but I usually include it)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (optional but I usually include it)
1 ham bone, 1 ham hock, hunk of leftover cooked ham, 1 inch square of salt pork, or 2 - 3 strips of bacon* (optional, but I usually include)

*If using bacon, blanch it in boiling water for one minute, drain, pat dry on paper toweling and coarsely chop it. Place bacon in soup pot, set over moderate heat and cook, stirring, until bacon turns a light golden color. Add remaining ingredients and proceed with recipe as below. If using ham bone, ham hock, leftover ham or salt pork, add any of those with the other ingredients; no need to cook those ahead.

Place all ingredients in soup pot, add about 5 1/3 cups water, bring to boil and boil for 1 minute, then simmer about 2 hours (1 1/2 hours minimum), till it gets to the thickness you like. Remove bay leaf, celery stalk, onion and ham bone (if used), and mash soup with potato masher a bit to make sure potato and peas are incorporated in soup and soup is not too lumpy. Taste it, and then add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
posted by gudrun at 12:56 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

From Japan: Okonomiyaki.
From Belgium: Carbonnade à la Flamande (video) and Suikertaart (video).
posted by iviken at 2:26 PM on July 15, 2012

What you want is Feijoida, which is infinitely customizable.

Another personal favorite is good old (Mexican) rice and beans (I cook my beans in a pressure cooker, then in a pan with oil) served on homemade corn tortillas with pickled red onions (can also use plain white vinegar, and I toss in a few cloves and peppercorns as well). It's a very healthy meal and delicious, and the whole thing seriously costs, like, $2.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:12 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Guys, this is fantastic.

Pasta 'fazool' for dinner tonight, I am making my own cottage cheese today, thanks JABof72, and I will tackle Dutch Babies for breakfast tomorrow.
I can see a lot of these recipes are going to be copied into the Big Red Family Cookbook, for future generations to puzzle over - 'who on earth is MonkeyToes and why did Grandma name this recipe "Greg Nog"?'

Please keep 'em coming, and I'll work my way through them, this is great inspiration to get me out of that horrible "whatshallImakefordinner" rut.
posted by Catch at 3:53 PM on July 15, 2012

Some of the cheapest meals are made by using what's fresh and available right now. For example, my local farm had garlic ramps and bunches of cilantro so I did what any sane person would do, I made pesto:

1/2 walnuts, toasted for a few minutes in a dry pan
4 or five ramps
1-2 bunches of cilantro (or parsley or basil)
1/2 C of parmesan
olive oil
1/2 t salt
ground black pepper

Put the nuts into a food processor (or a blender, but a blender is a chore) and grind. Add ramps and process. Add herbs and process. Add cheese and process. Drizzle in olive oil until it just comes together. Salt and pepper to taste. It freezes nicely. If you keep it in the fridge, pour some extra olive oil on top to make an air-tight layer to slow oxidation.

Pickling cukes were also in season, so my daughter and I put up dill pickles as well as pickled carrots and pickled beets:

a pile of pickling cukes, cleaned and about 1/2 of them cut into spears (and 1/2 of those cut in half)
garlic cloves, I use 2-3 per jar
dill sprigs (or dill seed)
pickling spice (which I think is too sweet but whatever)
A brine, consisting of 50/50 vinegar to water (use cider or another vinegar with equivalent acidity) + 1T of kosher or pickling salt (NOT iodized) for every C of liquid (for example, 2C vinegar, 2C water, 4T salt), brought to a boil. How much? Depends. For 4 quart jars of vegetables, I used 2 quarts of brine. Have it at a high simmer/low boil.

If you're canning for keeps, sterilize the jars and lids and for the love of all things holy, use wide mouth jars. Wash your hands. Fill hot jars with vegetables. I put the garlic and spices in first . Stuff them as tightly as you can. Top off to 1/4" of the rim with brine. Put on the lids tightly and into a water bath running at at least 180F for 20 minutes for quart jars, 10 minutes for pint jars (aka "single servings"). Timer starts when the temp hits 180. Remove from the bath and put on a kitchen towel to cool. I usually put the hot jars upside down for a few minutes then flip them. You should be rewarded with a series of pings as the jars cool and seal. Any jars that don't seal, put in the fridge when cool. Label the rest and they'll keep at room temperature well into the dead of winter. Like all things home canned, use all your sense and your senses. If it looks bad, if it smells bad, if it tastes bad: THROW IT OUT.

If you're not canning (I bet you eat the frosting on cakes first too), fill clean jars with veg, fill with brine, put on the lids, and when cool, into the fridge. Find some way to let them relax in the fridge for a week first, OK?
posted by plinth at 5:42 PM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: Update everyone!
- Pasta e Fagioli was a roaring success, it's winter here right now, so I used the basil and tiny red bell peppers we preserved in summer, but it was fantastic anyway. And cheap!

Tonight I had intended to make the Gnudi, but a flagon of cider was my undoing, so I opted for dipping the home-made ricotta in egg and breadcrumbs (with rosemary and black pepper) and frying it in olive oil instead, with salt and lemon to one side of a basic tomato pasta.
Tipsy cook = frying, somehow, it's a natural law.

Thanks so much for the push I needed to try making my own ricotta, JABof72, it's so ridiculously easy and good.
posted by Catch at 1:34 AM on July 18, 2012

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