A lone butternut squash sits on the shelf. Philippe Reininger, executive chef at J&G Steakhouse in downtown DC, looks concerned and tells me it’s too big. On the scale, the squash weighs in at just under four pounds. Even on sale, that eats up nearly $4 of Reininger’s budget.
Reininger accepted our Frugal Foodie challenge to make a fall dinner for four for less than $20, not including pantry items such as flour, sugar, and oil. The squash isn’t helping.
We move through the produce section and Reininger studies a shelf of mushrooms, shaking his head slightly. He chooses a few ounces of shiitakes, looking for ones where the gills are close together.
We move through the rest of the store, picking up crème fraîche, Arborio rice, and other ingredients, but lesson learned: Monday afternoons, when everything has been picked over from the weekend rush, isn’t the time to get the best produce.
At the checkout counter, Reininger comes in $3.57 over our initial budget. I blame the produce and let the extra slide.
At my apartment, I see Reininger has brought two of his own small Thai chilis—which cost a quarter and weren’t available at the store—and a single piece of candied ginger.
Reininger moves methodically as he boils the squash in chicken stock for a soup, creates an herbal-infused water for risotto, and gently rubs the skin off boiled beets. And, in the end, he dishes up a rich butternut-squash soup, a brightly flavored beet-and-goat-cheese salad, and a mushroom risotto with a touch of heat from the Thai-chili-and-herb-infused broth. It’s a delicious fall meal, even with those slim produce pickings.
All recipes serve four.
1 large butternut squash, peeled and diced
2½ cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons crème fraîche
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a medium-large pot. Add the squash and cook until tender. This will take at least 20 minutes, but possibly more. Test with a fork to be sure it’s ready. When the squash is tender, add in the crème fraîche and butter. Simmer about 5 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
1 bunch beets
3 cups water
Few drops red-wine vinegar
Olive oil to taste
Balsamic vinegar to taste
Salt to taste
4 ounces goat cheese
1 piece candied ginger (about 1 ounce), finely diced
Remove the greens from the beets. In a pot, boil water, sprinkle with salt, and add a few drops of red-wine vinegar. Add the beets and cook until tender, about 1 hour. Let cool. Use a paper or dish towel to gently rub the skin off the beets. Cut the beets into quarters. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt. Top each serving with goat cheese and candied ginger.
4 cups water
Peel of ¾ lemon
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 small Thai chiles, diced
¼ fennel bulb, diced
¼ onion, diced
1½ cups Arborio or short-grain rice
1½ cups mushrooms (shiitake, trumpet, oyster, or a mix)
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large sauce pan, bring the water to a boil. Add the lemon peel, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and chiles. Turn off the heat and let sit for a half hour. Strain liquid and discard the herbs.
In a lightly oiled sauce pan set over medium heat, sauté the fennel and onion. Add the rice and stir until coated with oil. Add ¼ cup of the herb-infused liquid and stir. Continue to add the liquid ¼ cup at a time until it’s gone. Stir frequently.
While the rice is cooking, sauté the mushrooms in a lightly oiled pan set over medium heat and season with salt and pepper. When the rice is cooked, stir in the butter and Parmesan cheese, top with mushrooms, and serve.
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