Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thrift Week 2018, Day Two: Pasta Fagioli

One of the biggest problems with being born in January is that you're always celebrating your birthday in freezing cold weather. This kind of limits the options for entertainment, and even food. Cake is all right in any weather, but ice cream is a lot less appealing when the temperature is below 30 degrees.

However, there is one food that's always welcome in winter: hot soup. So for Day Two of my edible Thrift Week, Brian is cooking up another of our favorite ecofrugal soups, Pasta Fagioli. This is sometimes spelled as "Pasta e Fagioli," which is Italian for "pasta and beans"; since the recipe comes from the south of Italy, it's pronounced with a slight slur, making it more like "Pasta Fazool."

There are lots of versions of this dish, using different types of pasta, beans, and veggies, but our favorite recipe comes from The Clueless Vegetarian, one of our go-to vegetarian cookbooks (which was featured in my 2014 Thrift Week celebration). This version uses two types of beans: white kidney beans, which are mashed up with a fork—liquid and all—to thicken the broth into something with more the consistency of a sauce, and red kidney beans, which are drained and left whole. The cookbook calls the result "A cross between a soup and a pasta. Let's not nitpick. Whatever it is, it's good." And it is: rich and savory, with the thick broth/sauce and the chewy chunks of bean, veggie, and pasta making a pleasing combination of textures.

The cookbook goes on to say this soup is "perfect accompanied by Parmesan Onion Bread," but we find it makes a perfectly satisfying meal all on its own. The recipe makes a nice, big potful—enough for a dinner and two lunches for the two of us. And, according to my calculations, it costs us only $2.33:
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil: 15 cents (using olive oil from Costco, which is only $4.73 per quart)
  • 1 carrot (organic): about 15 cents ($1.75 per pound at the Whole Earth Center)
  • 1 stalk celery (conventional): maybe 5 cents? It's so cheap I've never bothered to price it out.
  • 1 onion: about 10 cents ($1.49 for a 2-pound bag at H-Mart)
  • 2 garlic cloves: about 4 cents ($1.29 for a sleeve of 5 heads at H-Mart)
  • 5 cups vegetable broth: about 40 cents. This would be cheaper if we used our homemade stock, but we prefer to prepare it with our favorite Vegetable Soup Base from Penzey's, which gives the soup tons of flavor. Brian uses about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the soup base to 5 cups of water, and that's plenty.
  • 1 can each red and white kidney beans: $1.00. We got these on sale at Shop-Rite during their recent "Can-Can Sale"; if we made the dish with cooked dry beans, it would be even cheaper.
  • 1 cup small pasta: about 44 cents. We usually make it with orzo, which is about 2 1/4 cups to the pound; we can get it for about $1 a pound on sale.
  • Salt and pepper to taste: With the Penzey's stock, we don't really need to add any other seasoning.
So that's $2.33 for six servings, or less than 40 cents per serving, making this even cheaper than the mushroom barley soup. And on a cold night like this, it's certainly a meal you'll have no complaints about.
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