“It’s the smallest one they have,” says Todd Gray in disbelief as he holds up an onion the size of a Magic 8 Ball. Worried the onion will push his grocery bill over the limit, he considers whether he should put anything back.
For this Frugal Foodie, we challenged the Equinox chef/co-owner to whip up dinner for four for less than $15, and he’s taking the budget seriously. Gray already had to forgo fresh or frozen peas for canned ones and held lengthy deliberations over the canned-pineapple and ice-cream selections. But he decides to take a gamble. The bill comes to $15.56—he blames the few extra cents on the onion.
At my apartment, Gray places two potatoes on a baking sheet lined with salt and pops them into the oven. For a tomato/bread soup, he minces part of the onion and lets it soften in a saucepan. He adds some spices and a can of crushed tomatoes and lets it all simmer. Then he gets to work on a sausage ragu, removing the sausage meat from its casing and browning it. He slices more of the onion into thin strips and sautés it in the remnants of the meat drippings before adding the sausage back into the pan. There’s more than half an onion left.
When the potatoes are done, he peels them and works them through a strainer to get a fine texture. Using his hands, Gray mixes the potato, flour, and egg yolks to create a gnocchi dough. He rolls a piece of the dough into a long tube and slices off one-inch nubs. He presses each piece of gnocchi against the back of a fork to create small grooves, which he says will allow it to hold the sauce better. He puts the onion in a bowl and wonders if there’s anything else he can do with it.
While the gnocchi cook in boiling water, Gray opens the can of peas to find small, brown globs instead of bright-green peas. He tastes one, and it’s clear the peas taste as drab as they look. I root through my freezer and offer a bag of shelled edamame. A vibrant shade of green, they add a nice pop of color to the sausage gravy. The onion still sits there.
Gray finishes the soup with toasted bits of baguette and browns the gnocchi before serving them over the sausage-and-onion ragu. He makes a caramel, caramelizes pineapple slices, and scoops a bit of ice cream on top. At dinner, we eat every last bite of the feast. All that’s left is the super-size onion.
All recipes serve four.
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup minced onion
1 tablespoon garlic paste
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 28-ounce can puréed tomatoes
½ teaspoon sugar
1⁄3 bouillon cube
1 tube basil paste (Gray bought the garlic, chili, and basil pastes in a Gourmet Garden three-pack of ½-ounce tubes, available at many area grocery stores).
1 small roll or baguette
Salt and pepper to taste
Add the olive oil to a saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic paste, chili paste, tomatoes, and sugar.
Fill the empty tomato can 2⁄3 full of water and add 1⁄3 of a bouillon cube. Stir and add to soup. Lower the heat, and let the soup simmer for 30 minutes.
Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and toast until crunchy but not brown. Add the bread and the entire tube of basil paste to the soup. Simmer ten minutes more. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
3 sweet Italian sausages
1 cup sliced onion
½ cup edamame, shelled
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove the sausages from their casings and brown in a pan set over medium-high heat. Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, add the onion and cook in the fat from the sausage. Add 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook until slightly caramelized.
Season to taste with pepper. Add the sausage back into the pan. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1⁄3 cup of water. Add the edamame. Simmer ten minutes.
2 large potatoes
¾ cup flour
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon salt.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Salt, as needed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the potatoes on a baking sheet covered with salt and bake until soft, approximately 1½ hours. When the potatoes are done, remove the skins and work them through a food mill or mesh strainer. Add the flour, egg yolks, and the ½ teaspoon of salt to potatoes, and work the mixture into a dough. Cover the dough with a towel so it doesn’t dry out.
Set up a large pot of boiling water and an ice bath.
Cut a piece of the dough and roll it into a long tube, then cut it into ½-inch gnocchi. Repeat with the remainder of the dough. Roll each piece of gnocchi along the back of a fork to create ridges (the grooves help hold the sauce). Add the gnocchi to the boiling water. Cook them until they rise to the top. Drop the gnocchi into the ice bath. Remove the gnocchi and drop into a bowl coated in olive oil. At this point, you can refrigerate or freeze the gnocchi (they will last in the refrigerator for 2 days; in the freezer, they’ll last 2 weeks).
Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan set over medium-high heat. Add the gnocchi and lightly brown.
Serve over a bed of the sausage ragu.
Caramelized Pineapple and Ice Cream
½ cup sugar
¾ cup milk, warmed
¼ cup crushed walnuts
2 teaspoons corn starch (if using skim milk)
1 small can sliced pineapples
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
Sugar as needed
Ice cream of your choice
To make the caramel, add the sugar to a saucepan set over low heat. When the sugar starts to caramelize, stir in the milk. When it thickens into caramel, add the walnuts. If you’re using skim milk, the caramel many not thicken. Create a slurry to thicken the caramel: Mix 2 teaspoons of corn starch with 2 tablespoons of the pineapple juice from the can. Stir to combine and then add to the caramel. Add salt.
Using a pastry brush, coat each pineapple slice with sugar. In a pan set over medium heat, caramelize the pineapples. Place them on a plate. In the center of the pineapple, add a scoop of ice cream. Add a swirl of caramel to each plate.