Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pesto-Dressed Pasta with Garden Veggies and Mizithra Cheese

Remember when I said that garden veggies make for great frugal opportunities to try artisinal cheeses and meats that are normally so expensive if they are the feature of a dish?  This is a technique called "stretching."  Your grandmother or great-grandmother did this during WWII or the Depression, and it is how you take a pound of hamburger, add an egg (frequently from at-home laying hens in the era, even in suburban homes) and some oats or crackers or bread, and get a meatloaf that feeds a family of 6-8.

Here, I am using my garden veggies to stretch some yummy Greek Mizithra cheese I got at Jungle Jim's International Market, a northern Cincinnati institution.  Seriously, if you are at all in the area, make a trip to Jungle Jim's.  Bring a cooler and ice, and wear walking shoes.  I've been looking for Mizithra cheese basically since I first tasted it at the age of five, and the quest has, um, been a few years in duration.  Jungle Jim's had it.

Anyway, the cheese is pretty expensive, at $10.99 a pound, not normally a price I would willingly pay for cheese.  However, let's see how I stretched it:

Pesto-dressed Pasta with Garden Veggies and Mizithra Cheese
1 box pasta ($0.79)
2 oz Mizithra cheese ($1.37)
1/2 pint pesto (frozen from garden last year; free)
6-8 medium tomatoes (garden; free)
2 small leeks (garden; free)
2 cloves garlic (garden; free)
1 mild chile (garden; free)
sea salt and cracked black pepper

Cook pasta until al dente.  Coat with basil pesto, add salt to taste, and set aside.

Meanwhile, cut tomatoes into chunks and saute with leeks, garlic, and the chopped, de-seeded chile.  When the tomatoes have cooked down, but are not mush (about 10 minutes), strain the juice off and top the pasta.  Add about 2 oz. of mizithra cheese and serve.

Makes 4 large servings.  It refrigerates and reheats well, so if you have a small family or live alone, you can easily make dinner and then package up the leftovers for lunch at the office or dinner the next day.

The Analysis

Fast:  I made this twice over a single weekend, so enamoured of it were we.  It takes about 30 minutes total of active cooking. 

Cheap:  I spent $2.16 making this meal, which was $0.54 per serving for a really gourmet taste.  Note:  The reason I count garden veggies as "free" is that I count the seed order and the plant purchase each year as part of the grocery budget.  In a sense, the garden then converts to a living pantry.  Yes, I know that it is theoretically possible to put a price on each tomato, but it becomes a moving target when every tomato you bring in lowers the cost-per-tomato that much more.  So, I more or less treat the garden veg as equivalent to sea salt or olive oil; it is something I just pay to keep around.

Good:  Try this with your favorite gourmet cheese.  A strongly-flavored cheese like Mizithra doesn't require a lot to pack a punch, so you will be enjoying this yummy meal all the way to the bank!
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  1. Awesome! I just found Mizithra cheese for the first time myself. I snatched it up with no real idea what I was going to do with it. Thanks for the suggestion!