Nothing like nothing in the larder

If there are any notable challenges to the creative cook, poverty probably ranks the highest. There’s nothing like nothing in the larder to truly inspire a cook to new levels of culinary greatness.

Take this evening, for example. Still waiting on payments from a web site which shall remain nameless, I found myself rummaging through the refrigerator looking for something to make for dinner. Last night, I made a pretty tasty sweet potato and chickpea soup (which included green apple, shallots, corn, cilantro, garlic, and jalapeño) with a pan of corn bread but after eating the soup for lunch today, as well, I wasn’t really in the mood for another helping.

Actually, photographing the damned noodles and fussing with the lighting was probably more difficult than actually making them.

What else was available? Not much. Then I remembered I still had a couple of eggs in the refrigerator. I had flour. And olive oil, and capers, and sage growing on the windowsill in the kitchen. There was still a chunk of Romano cheese, too. Dinner just sort of presented itself.

I learned how to make handmade pasta several years ago but I’ve been making it with more frequency in the past couple of years. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I spent a couple of hours with the kids at my temple teaching them how to make noodles from scratch. It’s a useful skill to have and, anyway, few things rival the simple pleasure of fresh, homemade pasta.

It took me about 20 minutes to make a batch of fettuccine using my hand cranked pasta machine. Before I threw it into the pot to boil, I picked several leaves of sage from my windowsill herb garden and then, after cutting them into a fine chiffonade, I tossed them into a skillet filled with about three tablespoons of olive oil heating up over a low flame. I rinsed off a couple tablespoons of the salted capers I bought while I was in Italy and added those to the oil, too.

While the herbs sizzled gently in the pan, I dumped the noodles into the pot of boiling, salted water I had going on the other side of the stove, stirring them to prevent them from sticking together (unless you hang the freshly made noodles on racks or toss them with flour, they have an annoying tendency to cling to one another as severely as if they were suffering from abandonment issues). Fresh noodles, of course, take very little time to cook. That gave me just enough time to grate about half a cup of Romano cheese and to crush some black pepper.

In a few minutes, the noodles were done. I drained them, returned them to the pot, and then poured the hot oil and herbs over the pile of pasta. I added the pepper, and then – stirring the noodles all the while – added the grated cheese, bit by bit.

Dinner was ready. Inexpensive? Oh, yeah. I figure about 45 cents for the flour, 33 cents for the eggs, 16 cents for the olive oil, and another 40 cents or so for the cheese – as well as for the capers –  and the whole meal probably cost me $1.74.

Being broke doesn’t mean one has to eat badly but eating well on a budget running in negative digits does require a certain amount of skill.

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