*FOOD SNOB ALERT!* WARNING: The Humble Food Snob is about to get snobbish! I figured I’d better give some fair warning that I’m about to live up to the food snob part of my name. I don’t do it very often so it may take some of you by surprise ;.)
Broke food. I don’t do broke food- not like most people do. I can’t bring myself to cook up Ramen noodles and call it dinner. I can’t fry up some Spam, mix it with some mac & cheese and serve it to my family. I just can’t. It’s not tasty, it’s not healthy, and it’s just plain depressing for my entire family. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t do it if they have to. I know that for some that’s all they can afford. Thanks to my ex husband I know what it’s like to have to do that or not eat. I’ve been there. It’s that experience that drove me to redefine broke food for my family. It’s that experience that made me look at the food I buy and think about how I can make it go farther and still be healthy and tasty. I can now take a pound of bacon and make 4 different nearly meatless main courses out of it. I can take 3 pounds of steak and make at least 2 meals out of it- sometimes as many as 5. I can take a big bag of frozen chicken breasts from Sam’s Club and make it last a whole month. And the dishes I create from the food I stretch taste wonderful, are filling, and are at least moderately healthy (sometimes I make something truly indulgent and it’s not the healthiest thing in the world but darn it, it tastes good). So now I’ve redefined “broke food” for my family and we are all perfectly happy to eat it. They don’t know it’s broke food until I tell them it is and it’s a running joke now. Instead of being depressed that we have to eat nasty processed foods we can continue to enjoy dinners as a family, eating inexpensive meals, and never really giving our broke food a second thought. It’s a great illustration that food is as much about psychology as it is about the act of eating.
This is one of the dishes I can make from a pound of bacon. I originally found it in The Soprano Family Cookbook but have also found the recipe on food.com and it is exactly the same. I was a bit wary of making a dish that uses both pasta and potatoes but it turns out amazingly good and not nearly as heavy as it sounds. If you look up the recipe on food.com you will see that I have changed things up a bit. I do that. That’s why my food is so good. (See? I just can’t stop with the snobbishness in this post ;.) )
As you can see, the ingredients are few and fairly cheap. Pictured is double the amount of bacon I would normally use. If you look at the color it has turned you can tell that I needed to use it up so I decided to put it all into this dish. The result was very tasty but it will still be wonderful using a quarter pound of bacon. There are 8 bullion cubes there and that’s one of the changes I made from the original. It called for water and that would just be boring. Chicken broth gives this dish a richness and flavor that water just can’t.
If you’re using the correct amount of bacon you probably won’t need to drain any of the fat because you need about 2 tablespoons to saute everything. If you use any more than the quarter pound you’ll definitely need drain some off or the dish will end up greasy. Once you’ve diced the onion and carrot you can put those in the pot along with the tomato sauce too saute it all together. When everything is golden add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add your diced potatoes and 6 cups of the broth. You should have what looks like soup.
Don’t worry- it will end up a thick, rich, tasty concoction akin to a very thick stew. Now you need to let this simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, giving it a good stir occasionally. Then take a potato masher or the back of you cooking spoon and mash some of the potatoes. That is part of what will thicken everything and what gives the dish it’s satisfying texture.
Once you’ve done that add the last 2 cups of broth and the box of pasta and let simmer for about 20 minutes, until the pasta is cooked all the way through. This is where you’ll need to stir more often. This stuff likes to stick! If you just let it simmer away at this point you will have an inch of cooked on crud at the bottom of your pot. I found that out the hard way once when I had to attend to something else while cooking this dish. It was not fun to try to clean and it wasted about a serving & a half which defeats the purpose of broke food. So stir it every couple of minutes & save yourself the headache. You will end up with something like this…
Now you can add half a cup of Parmesan cheese. As much as I like fresh parm sometimes I just can’t afford it so the stuff in the green can works fine too. Or you can leave it out. You’ll lose a little flavor but not much thanks to the flavor boost the broth added. Serve it up with some biscuits, rolls, or garlic bread and you’re set. It’s even great as leftovers!
The Recipe
1/4 lb. Bacon, diced
1 large Carrot, diced
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 T Tomato Paste
1 & 1/2 lbs. Potatoes, diced (the recipe calls for “boiling potatoes”. I use russets because it’s what I buy in bulk & what we like)
8 C Chicken Broth, divided
1 box Ditalini (this is one of those times you have to use shaped pasta. Ditalini works best but you could use stars or a similar sized pasta)
1/2 C Parmesan Cheese, optional
The Method
*Cook bacon until browned but not quite crisp.
*Add diced onion and carrot and the tomato paste and saute until the mixture takes on a golden hue.
*Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.
*Add 6 cups of the chicken broth and the diced potatoes and cook uncovered on a medium boil (more than simmering, less than a rolling boil) for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
*With a potato masher or the back of your cooking spoon mash some of the potatoes but not all.
*Add the last 2 cups of chicken broth and the box of pasta. Cook on a medium boil about 20 minutes or until the pasta is cooked all the way through and soft. Make sure you stir often!
*Take off the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese if using.
*Serve with bread and maybe a nice salad.
This really is a wonderful, filling dish that you won’t even realize is broke food :.)
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