Eating on a budget is possible, but it's not exactly exciting. To be honest, despite my success with recipes I developed last year during the Hunger Challenge I didn't make any of them again after the Challenge was over. They were too plain, sad reminders of a week of limitations. My desire this year is to coax maximum flavor out of inexpensive dishes and not rely on my old standbys, bacon and parmesan cheese. The Challenge seems to be turning me into a vegan.
One recipe I've been trying to rethink is pesto. In this version I replaced basil with parsley, took out the cheese and olive oil, used pumpkin seeds in place of pine nuts and used a bit of bread to give the sauce some texture. I credit cookbook author Sally Schneider with that idea. She uses a mixture of bread and water to create creamy texture that tricks you into thinking you are eating something made with oil or fat. The nice thing about this sauce is that in addition to using it on pasta, you could also serve it with chicken, vegetables or even fish, assuming you caught some that is.
The pesto was pretty good on angel hair pasta with a sprinkling of toasted bread crumbs on top, an Italian "cucina povera" technique. It acts as a stand in for parmesan cheese because it is crunchy and a little salty. I will admit, without the parmesan this sauce does need more salt than conventional pesto. Since pasta can be found for 99¢ a package or about 25¢ a serving I leave it up to you to decide if you want to add a drizzle of olive oil..
About 1 cup, 6 servings about 34¢ per serving
1 bunch parsley $1.49
1 garlic clove, smashed 5¢
1/2 slice soft bread, wheat or white 10¢
2 Tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds, shelled 40¢
1/2 - 2/3 cup water or more as needed
Salt to taste
In a dry (no oil) non-stick pan over medium heat toast the pumpkin seeds for about 2 minutes or until they begin to lighten in color and get crispy. Roughly chop the parsley and stems, trimming the very end of the stems off. Put the water in the blender first, then add the parsley, garlic, pumpkin seeds and the bread. Whirl until pureed, adding more water if necessary. Season to taste with salt. Serve over pasta, chicken, bread, etc.