Monday, September 26, 2011

What I Made for Dinner: September 26, 2011

Pasta with roasted tomato sauce and leftover pork chops; lettuce and tomato salad with vinaigrette.

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a terrific piece by Mark Bittman destroying the notion that fast food is cheaper than home cooking.  It's funny, because just last week I was having a conversation with my mom about how food insecurity seems to intersect with a loss of ordinary cooking skills.  If you don't know how to cook, then you can't stretch your food dollar.  We discussed this while I made stock from the carcasses of two chickens she had roasted for us.

Now, we are not food-insecure at chez Dinnertime.  We can afford all the groceries we want, and we have many choices of pleasant and clean markets at which to buy them, and for these privileges I am grateful all the time.  I am thankful when I shop and again when I cook, which is almost every night. 

Still, I am frugal.  I have written before about how much my inner-Depression-era-housewife hates waste.  In fact, one of my first posts was about making soup from asparagus stems.  I plan our meals weekly so we don't buy too much.  I have studied and admire Hillbilly Housewife's $45 emergency menu, though thankfully I've never had to try it.  Importantly, I use leftovers.

One thing the New York Times article omitted is that when you cook at home, you sometimes get  leftovers for another meal, reducing your food costs even more. Leftovers plus an open mind and a little skill can yield stocks, soups, tacos, pot pies, pasta dishes, quesadillas, pizza toppings, delightful sandwiches, and on and on as needed.  But to use leftovers, the cook has to be creative, flexible, and not a snob.  Food Network and foodie culture generally don't promote these characteristics, unfortunately.  They are essential to the home cook. 

Tonight's meal had three cheapo elements:  pork chops left over from Thursday, roasted tomato sauce made from scratch, and homemade vinaigrette.  We had only two boneless chops left over, but when sliced thin and tossed with the pasta, they made a perfectly hearty meal for four of us; we could have served a fifth person if he ever ate anything besides chocolate milk and air. 

The recipe for the pork chops is here (and they were delicious).  Here's the recipe for the roasted tomato sauce:

Six to eight Roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
One Tbsp. olive oil
One Tbsp. brown sugar
kosher salt to taste
1/2 cup red wine

One Tbsp. minced garlic
One Tbsp. capers
Two Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, or about two tsp. dried
Two Tbsp. chopped fresh basil, or about two tsp. dried
*Note:  The last five ingredients are optional; the roasted tomatoes will make a tasty sauce without them, or with only some of them, or with different amounts to taste.  See, creative, flexible, not a snob:  essential.

Preheat oven to 400.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place tomatoes, cut side up, on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle evenly with the oil, brown sugar, and salt.  Roast 30-45 minutes until tomatoes have begun to render their juices and blacken in spots.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.  *At this point, if you aren't making sauce right away, the tomatoes and pan drippings can be transferred to a plastic container and frozen for future use.*

Transfer the tomatoes and their pan drippings to a blender or food processor and puree.  Put the puree into a medium saucepan with the wine, garlic, capers, parsley, and basil.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.  Serve tossed with pasta (penne is good) and leftover pork chops, sliced thin.  If necessary, thin the sauce with a little of the pasta cooking water before serving.


  1. Sounds delicious. And, perhaps, you can make Flat Alex the fifth diner. He can definitely get by on chocolate milk and air.

  2. It's Oct. 20th. Don't pretend you haven't been cooking.

  3. You're exactly right- left over mash becomes fish cakes the next night in our house, bones become stock for soups and sad herbs get whizzed into slurries to dress up a tomato salad. Besides which, where's the satisfaction of stirring a sauce with a glass of wine when you've just got take away in a plastic container in front of you?