Budget Gourmet

Article excerpt

Byline: Julia Reed

Just after new year's, I was having a festive drink with my friends Rod and Joyce when the talk turned--as the talk so often does these days--to budgets. I mentioned that I had never in my life made one until now, a fact that has driven my father, who considers me the soul of extravagance, crazy for at least 30 years, and might also have contributed, now that I think of it, to the current less-than-lavish state of my pocketbook. Anyway, as part of my new, more prudent approach to things, I thought it might be interesting to see if my husband and I could dine--pretty well--on $50 worth of groceries per week. If I were the irritating Julie Powell, I might blog about it; instead, I made a bet.

Rod wagered it would be impossible--for me--and we agreed that whoever lost would buy a fittingly extravagant dinner. What Rod didn't know is that I've long lived like an accidental survivalist. All I needed to win was to shop my own pantry.

The good news about being formerly extravagant is that you have some pretty swell stuff lurking around. There was pasta I'd toted from Italy three trips ago; ditto balsamic vinegar of every conceivable age. There were anchovies and capers, olives, and pickled figs, three colors of lentils, and four kinds of rice. Why, I wondered, had I bought two bottles of walnut oil and one of blood-orange vinegar? I don't know, but it turns out they work really well together on a salad of watercress and endive. Does pasta have a shelf life? Supposedly it's two years, but my four-year-old pappardelle was just fine. Is it too gross to make a meal of the runny Epoisses my mother left at Christmas? Yes, but I found an Epoisses souffle recipe from Anne Willan that made an elegant supper with a salad.

In college, there was a period when I was so broke that the only items in my fridge were a jar of mayo and pimento-stuffed olives, and I became rather fond of olive sandwiches; now I can enjoy a slightly more sophisticated cheap meal of spaghetti with the black olives, capers, and anchovies on my shelf--add some chopped canned tomatoes, and I have puttanesca. …