The Frugal Foodie: Rustico’s Steve Mannino

Raising your glass to autumn doesn’t mean having to raise your grocery bill. Rustico’s Steve Mannino shows you how to cook an Oktoberfest feast for six for less than $25. Now that’s something to say “prost” to.

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Steve Mannino isn’t messing around.

The newly appointed chef at Rustico in Alexandria researched grocery stores, scoured the Web for deals, and joined Harris Teeter’s VIC program for extra savings for this Frugal Foodie challenge.

“I signed up for their program just so I could get this special,” says Mannino pointing to an ad with an offer for a five-pound bag of potatoes for $1. “I planned everything around this.”

Mannino has agreed to cook an Oktoberfest-themed dinner for six. Not including the beer or standard pantry items—sugar, flour, olive oil—the bill can’t exceed $25.

With the potatoes tucked into his cart, we take off through the store picking up the rest of the ingredients he needs. Mannino admits how out of practice he is when it comes to shopping at an actual grocery store instead of through wholesale purveyors.

As we throw in carrots, onion, apples, and whipping cream, Mannino marvels at the number of deals the store offers. We check out the buy-one-get-one-free options at the meat counter, and he settles on pork-loin cutlets, bratwurst, and Italian sausage.

At the checkout line, Mannino is over the moon to discover that his new VIC card saved him $4. He heads back into the store and picks up a head of cabbage and some cheese.

Back at my apartment, Mannino sautés garlic and onion in two separate pans—one for potato soup and the other for a bratwurst-and-sauerkraut stew. Then he peels the potatoes, setting aside eight for the soup and the rest for the stew.

For the soup, he adds enough water to cover the potatoes and lets it simmer. For the stew, he adds the sausage, sauerkraut, carrots, and potatoes. While that simmers, he browns the pork-loin cutlets and bratwurst, adding the latter to the stew.

Mannino turns to dessert and puts his own spin on kaiserschmarren, a rustic, pancake-like sweet. He caramelizes several peeled apples in a large sauté pan, mixes  a soufflé-like batter, pours it over the apples, and sets the whole thing in the oven.

Soon, the savory scent of onions and garlic is mixing with the sweet aroma of the apples. It smells like fall. And when we sit down to dinner, it tastes like it, too. Now, that’s worth raising a stein of beer and saying “cheers.”

This Saturday, October 10, from noon to 6, Rustico celebrates Oktoberfest with a block party to benefit DC Central Kitchen.

All recipes serve six.

Potato Soup

3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
½ onion, sliced
8 potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 small loaf of bread (Mannino used a sub roll)
2 tablespoons butter
Vegetable oil as needed
Salt as needed
Pepper as needed
Cheddar cheese for garnish
Sour cream for garnish

Add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a soup pan and set it over medium-high heat. Sauté the garlic and onion until they’re lightly brown. Add the potatoes and mix in thoroughly. Add enough water to cover the potatoes by an inch. Season to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 40 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

Meanwhile, chop the bread into bite-size pieces. In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the bread to the pan and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Don’t stir until the last minute, so that the bread crisps up into croutons.

Take the soup off the stove and run it through a blender until it’s thick and creamy. Because the soup is hot, don’t use the lid on the blender—place a dish towel over top instead.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with small slices of cheddar cheese, sour cream, and croutons.

Sauerkraut-and-Bratwurst Stew

Vegetable oil as needed
1 onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 package ground Italian sausage meat, about 1 pound
1 head of cabbage, sliced
1¼ pounds sauerkraut
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cups white wine
Salt to taste
4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon celery salt or caraway seeds
1 package bratwurst, about 1 pound
6 pork-loin cutlets
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
Mustard for garnish

Cover the bottom of a soup pan with vegetable oil. Over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic until soft.
Add the sausage meat. Cook until the meat is almost brown. Add the cabbage, sauerkraut, and carrots. Simmer 5 minutes.

Add the white wine, salt, and potatoes. Simmer until the wine cooks off, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the bay leaves and celery salt or caraway seeds, then add enough water to evenly cover the mixture. Simmer for at least 1 hour and up to 2.

Sauté the bratwurst in a pan set over medium heat until lightly browned. Remove the brats from the pan, slice them, and add to the stew.

Season the pork cutlets with salt. Add the butter to the same pan you used for the bratwurst. Melt it over medium-high heat, then add the pork cutlets and cook until browned.

Serve each bowl of stew with a pork-loin cutlet on top and a dollop of mustard.

Apple Kaiser

Prepare the apples:

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
¾ cup of sugar
2 tablespoons butter
Half a lemon

Sauté the apples over medium-high heat with the rest of the ingredients until they’re caramelized, about 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool in the pan.

Make the batter:

4 egg yolks
4½ ounces sugar
¼ cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons dark rum
4 teaspoons flour
3 egg whites
3 tablespoons sugar
Powdered sugar for garnish
Whipped cream for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks and 3 ounces of sugar. Whisk until pale yellow. Add the crème fraîche and rum. Continue to mix until smooth. Fold in the flour.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. Add the remaining 1½ ounces of sugar and continue to whip until the mixture is stiff but not dry. Fold the meringue into the batter mixture. Spoon the mixture into the sauté pan of apples. Bake for 12 minutes, or until set. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with whipped cream.

Beer Pairings From Rustico’s Greg Engert

For the potato soup:

Engert suggests a Wiezenbier: “These are paler, crisper versions of Oktoberfests—they have become the standard for the brews served at Oktoberfest in Munich,” he says. Examples include Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier (Staatliches Hofbräuhaus)
and Weihenstephaner Festbier (Brauerei Weihenstephan). “These brews work because their bubbles cut into the rich soup, and they have mildly sweet, bready flavors that complement the potato and balance out the sharpness of the cheddar.”

For the sauerkraut-and-bratwurst stew:

Engert would serve a Märzen: “These are throwback, traditional styles, notable for their ruddy amber-copper hues and toasty, full-bodied maltiness. They also show subtle spice and herbal aromatics,” Engert says. He likes Balto MärzHon (Clipper City Brewery); Bell’s Octoberfest Beer (Bell’s Brewery); Flying Dog Dogtoberfest (Flying Dog Brewery); Penn Oktoberfest (Pennsylvania Brewing Company); and Victory Festbier (Victory Brewing Company). “The toastiness with a hint of caramel matches nicely with the subtle sweetness of the pork.”

For the apple kaiser:

Engert would go for a pumpkin ale: “Pumpkins provided American colonists with a sugar source for their brews when barley was unavailable, and craft brewers have been resuscitating the style for years. The pumpkin itself offers little flavor in the finished beer, so a generous amount of spicing gives these ales a pumpkin-pie profile,” Engert says. He suggests Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale (Brooklyn Brewery); Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery); New Holland Ichabod Ale (New Holland Brewing Company); Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (Smuttynose Brewing Company); and Wolaver’s Will Stevens’ Organic Pumpkin Ale (Otter Creek Brewing). Says Engert: “These brews offer a beautiful bready flavor to link up with the soufflé and a delicious dessert spice profile to accentuate the caramelized apple.”

Check out our Guide to Oktoberfest 

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