In about 25 days The Average Foodie is getting a new home kitchen. We’ll be moving from our big city loft apartment to a gorgeous and roomy townhouse in the suburbs. My current kitchen has served me well and has produced some great and decadent dishes over the years, but I’m looking forward to our new and BIGGER kitchen that awaits us. But one first thing s first – we must use as much of the existing food in our existing pantry as possible. After all, who really wants to transport all that food? Not I!
So for the next few weeks I’m on a mission to cook up some tasty meals with only what is left in my pantry and refrigerator. That means no more major trips to the grocery to stock up until we are comfortably moved in to the new place. This will be a test of frugality, but also a great challenge to be truly creative in the kitchen.
Proteins, dairy and produce are the main ingredients I hope to use up by the time we are ready to pack up and leave. I’m hoping to do a recipe a day and not restricted to any particular meal; therefore it could be a muffin recipe one day for breakfast and a ragu of sorts for dinner the next. Depending on how long the ingredients last, this could be 25 dishes or it can be 10; we’ll see how it goes.
The first dish is a faux ragu. Normal ragu is a meat-based Italian sauce, which is really just meat cooked with a sofrito sauce and simmered for a very long time so that the flavors can blend together and meat becomes soft and tender. My version is made with beef, and is by no means traditional (hence the ‘faux’) because I was short a few ingredients. But that’s the point, right? This is day 1 of my frugal 30-day-clean-out-my-pantry cooking challenge.
Frugal Beef Ragu
½ lb of ground beef
1 large carrot, chopped in small pieces
¼ onion, chopped
4 large brown mushrooms, chopped
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp dry oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
Pinches of salt and crushed red pepper
1 cup of red wine
½ cup beef broth
½ cup water
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
¼ cup of homemade marinara sauce (pre-made) OR crushed tomatoes
1. In a large pan, heat olive oil and begin cooking the carrots, onions and garlic with some crush red pepper and pinch of oregano powder. Cook until soft.
2. Add the ground beef and more dry oregano, salt, red pepper and garlic powder. Cook until browned and cooked through.
3. Add wine and deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add beef broth, water and stir in some butter and bay leaves. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the marinara sauce, stir and simmer for about 20-30 minutes. If you do not have marinara or tomato-based pasta sauce, add some chopped tomatoes and cook down until they are mushy enough to smash down and incorporate into the sauce. Also stir in the vinegar and reduce until liquid is at half.
5. Taste and season if more if necessary. If too salty, add water and cook for a few more minutes. Serve with any cooked pasta you have in your pantry. (I used some elbow pasta!)
TIP: If you are not on a budget, purchase some fresh pasta that is made with eggs. That’s a traditional way of serving a ragu sauce, as told to me once by a Sicilian Chef.
Cook the carrots, onions and garlic in olive oil until tender. Do not burn. Also add the dry herbs and spices.
Add and cook the ground beef. Cook until well done and brown.
Stir in red wine, broth, mushrooms, bay leaves and butter. Simmer for about 5 minutes and then add tomato sauce, marinara or chopped tomatoes. Cook for about 30 minutes to reduce the sauce and let the flavors blend.
Taste and season more if necessary. Add vinegar and cook for a few minutes. This will give it a great savory taste and tartness.
Stir in some cooked pasta and serve hot!