October 16, 2007

Cheap/Tasty: Penne Alla Awesome

"Oh. Heavy cream? Skip, is there anything I can substitute?"

"No. Absolutely not. Please Robin, don't substitute anything for the heavy cream. We're talking 1 tablespoon (per serving). Please. Just have a little less and eat a salad."

This story started last week when I didn't feel like making dinner. I'm still settling into Birmingham, and cooking sometimes feels a bit overwhelming. It's getting better, though. Anyway, I decided to walk over to Chez Lulu for something light.

I ended up ordering penne alla vodka. It rocked. I was very pleased. Good sauce. Pleasantly spicy. It was everything I'd hoped for and the dish helped me figure out how I gage restaurants: if I can make it better than the restaurant, it wasn't worth it. When I finished my pasta, I decided that it was at least as good as something I could have put together.

And then I got the bill. Sixteen dollars for a smallish plate of pasta without any meat. I was not happy. Right, and they don't take American Express. Ugh.

On the walk home, I decided to make the pasta for myself. The next day I found Lidia Bastianich's recipe, gathered the ingredients, and rocked it out. I cannot remember a dish I've prepared that tasted so good, came together so quickly with so few ingredients. I ended up using a can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes (instead of whole) and didn't puree them (because I still don't have a food processor larger than 1/2 cup). And since Lidia didn't give any kind of direction with the red pepper flakes, I used three large pinches (which I estimate at around 1 1/2 tablespoons). The result was at least as good as Chez Lulu's, a pleasant spice level (though next time I may put a little more), and, as you'll see in a moment, incredibly cheap.

It wasn't much more than 35 mintues from boiling the water to sitting down at the table. So worth it.

Final cost per portion - $2.05 per serving.

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