The Italians have easy, inexpensive cooking down to a science, and pasta is only one part of the simple equation.
Cheap and healthy vegetables also factor in: Consider cabbage, escarole and radicchio. These traditional Italian cooking mainstays, often overlooked in American cooking, aren’t just good for you—they’re also easy on the wallet and tremendously flavorful when prepared right.
For these heftier-than-spinach vegetables, which just require an Italian-inspired braise, the best preparation is to cook them slowly in water, olive oil and wine.
For example, while slightly bitter at first, low-calorie, high-fiber, vitamin-packed escarole will transform into a luscious topping for an everyday pasta such as linguine when slowly cooked with several glugs of olive oil and sautéed garlic. Add good-quality, grated Parmesan, and your rustic meal is finished. Best of all, since the ingredient list is so minimal, your kitchen is hardly dirtied.
This flexible recipe even allows you to plug other ingredients into this formula of pasta + sturdy vegetable = delicious dinner. For instance, substitute the linguine with another long pasta such as fettucine, thin spaghetti or angel hair, and if you don’t have escarole, use another rugged vegetable: broccoli rabe, kale, cabbage or raddichio.
Since we all can practically cook pasta in our sleep, browning the garlic and braising the escarole (or your veggie of choice) are all you have to concentrate on. Fortunately, even that is hard to mess up.
(And if you’re itching for more delicious recipes, don’t miss our cookbook giveaway below!)
Linguine With Italian Braised Escarole
Time: 40 minutes
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes
1 large head escarole (about 2 pounds; if you can’t find escarole, this dish is also delicious with cabbage or radicchio), cleaned, trimmed and cut into 2-inch-wide ribbons
2 tablespoons white wine
1 pound linguine
½ cup freshly ground Parmesan cheese
Place the olive oil in a large skillet with a lid, or a Dutch oven. Place over medium heat for 2 minutes, until hot. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes, until all of the garlic is gold. Add the chile flakes and 3/4 teaspoon salt, and give it a stir.
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Immediately add the escarole, stirring to get all the leaves exposed to the heat, which will wilt them (you may have to add the escarole in handfuls so it all fits). Pour in the wine and 1/2 cup water, and bring to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat to medium-low, so the liquid simmers. Cover and cook for 25-30 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure the vegetable hasn’t dried out (add some water if it has).
While the escarole is cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil for the linguine. Salt it well, then cook according to package directions. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Once the escarole has become really tender, add the drained linguine and toss to combine the strands with the escarole. Add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water, tossing as you go; keep adding water until the escarole starts to act like a sauce. Taste for salt, and add more as needed.
Serve in four bowls, topping with another drizzle of olive oil if you dare, and a handful of the grated parmesan. Grate fresh pepper on top. Serve immediately.
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