I have lived through many periods of economic downturn. You may also remember the recession of the early 1990s, a financial downturn that lasted about a year. During that time culinary expert Jack Pepin, award-winning cookbook author and PBS star, wrote “Economic Kitchen” (William Morrow, out of print).
His goal with this book was to make food dollars go further without sacrificing taste, to create recipes that could turn a pinch of a penny into a delicious experience. Born in France to a family of restaurateurs, it is second nature to be thrifty. World War II broke out in his early childhood and times were tough. Little gets lost in his kitchen. Meat or vegetable trimmings are used in soups, as well as broths that often end up in sauces.
I’ve written about frugal Pepin recipes before, but here are two new dishes, as well as my simple but hearty bread pudding.
Pork shoulder stewed with sweet potatoes
Pepin wrote that this dish mixed cultural influences. “[He]is very experienced in the Puerto Rican way, showing classic French techniques and capturing the traditional American flair that I’ve learned to love.”
If you feed four or less, this delicious dish can be extended to serve in two meals. One option for the second day, is to serve grilled sandwiches in bun-covered sandwiches with marinated coleslaw to be sour and sweet.
fruit: About 6 servings
1 3-pound pork shoulder roast (sometimes referred to as a “Boston Pot”)
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 pounds sweet potatoes, about 4
2 large brown onions
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
Optional: coarse salt
Optional: finely chopped fresh parsley
1. Place the roast pork in a cast iron or enamel casserole dish with a lid (I use a medium Le Creuset casserole). Add water, soy sauce, Tabasco, vinegar, honey, and cumin. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat; Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for an hour.
2. Meanwhile, peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 2-inch strips. Peel the onions and cut from top to bottom into 6 wedges. After 1 hour on the stove, add garlic, onions, and sweet potatoes to the roast in this order (some of the potatoes probably won’t be in the cooking liquid, don’t worry). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Re-boil over high heat on the stove top; Cover and gently boil over medium heat for 15 minutes.
3. Uncover the casserole and place in the center of a preheated oven for 45 minutes, stirring the meat in the juices every 15 minutes. At the end of cooking, the meat should be tender when pierced with a fork, and the vegetables should be tender with somewhat concentrated juices in the pan.
4. Taste the meat and juices. If necessary, sprinkle with salt to taste. Slice the meat and serve in shallow bowls with juices and vegetables. If desired, sprinkle with parsley.
source: Adapted from “Economic Kitchen” by Jack Pepin (William Morrow, $22)
Economy Jack garlic soup
Oh my gosh, this soup is delicious. It’s not far from a leek and potato soup, but this rendition is a creamy concoction with plenty of leeks and cream. This version provides the use of fewer balls and cream. Garlic is an earthy backbone.
fruit: 6 to 8 sessions
2 medium sized shallots
1/4 cup canola oil, divided for use
12 to 15 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cups chicken broth, plus more if needed for consistency
2 pounds sweet potatoes, russets, or Yukon Golds (whichever is cheaper), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Crotons: Thinly sliced baguette (about half a long baguette), brushed with remaining canola oil, or see cook’s notes for onion garnish option
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Cook notes: If the leeks are too pricey, a mixture of green onions and brown onions can be substituted, but Pepin cautions that the soup will not have the same flavor. At my house, for splurge, instead of toast, just before serving, I sprinkle the top of the soup with fried onions that I buy ready-to-use at Trader Joe’s in an 8-ounce container labeled a “Gourmet Fried Onion Piece.” I also use it to garnish my rice and potato dishes. Baked vegetable casserole and Asian noodle mixes.
1. Prepare the leeks: prune the roots. Using the white and light green part, cut into 1/2-inch strips; Place them in a bowl of cold water and squish them around the slices to remove any dirt. behavior. Dry it on a paper towel. You should take about two cups.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes or until cooked through. Add broth, potatoes and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.
3. In the meantime make the toast. Set the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 400 degrees. Place baguette slices in a single layer on a folded baking tray. Grease the surfaces with oil. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown and crisp (in oven this takes about 7 to 8 minutes).
4. When the soup is done, remove about 1 1/2 cups of the broth and set it aside. Mash the soup. I’m using an immersion blender (hand blender), but you can puree it in a food processor. Add enough reserved broth to reach desired consistency (you can add more if needed). Stir the butter into the hot soup. Ladle into bowls and top each serving with a few pieces of toast (see chef’s notes).
source: “Economic Kitchen” by Jack Pepin (William Morrow, $22)
Nana style old-fashioned bread pudding
My late grandmother, Bill Oliphant, used to make bread pudding a few times a month. In her generation, frugal home cooks wanted to take advantage of stale (or even older) bread. Soak the bread in the sweet custard mixture and bake until firm and golden brown on top. The nana concoction had plenty of custard, just enough that a thick layer of it rested around and under the bread.
fruit: 4 to 6 servings
6 thick-crust slices of stale bread, broken or cut into pieces about 1 inch long
2 tablespoons melted butter
Optional: 1/3 cup raisins, currants, or dried cranberries
4 large eggs, scrambled
4 cups whole or 2% milk
3/4 cup sugar or a little less
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Set the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a shallow 2-quart saucepan or 2-quart roasting pan (I use an oval ceramic gratin dish that is 2-quart and 13 1/2-inch long), slice the bread pieces. Drizzle with melted butter and, if using, scatter raisins on top.
3. In a bowl, add eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Mix well and then gently pour over the bread. Use a spoon or fork to dip the bread. Bake in a preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until set, center back. If you’d like a crustier, more brown surface, move the oven rack up and place it 8 inches below the grill. Turn on the oven light and leave it until it turns brown (you need to monitor this closely, as it can burn quickly).
Cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at email@example.com