Thursday, March 3, 2011

Broccoli Alfredo

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as our family of 6 tries to eat on $6/day.

Alfredo isn't the type of food we think of as fitting into a cheap eat challenge. Which was kind of my point in making and posting it. I mean, no, it's not beans and rice. But it's such a decadent rich food, a food we pay a pretty penny for at restaurants, a food we even pay a pretty penny for in the frozen foods section at Walmart (yeah, I had a look this week). And it takes just as long for our waiter to bring it and for us to warm the frozen stuff up in a skillet as it does to make the real mccoy at home--with butter and cream and cheese in all their forbidden loveliness.

One of the food epitome's of my adult life was that Alfredo was really easy to make, a 15-minute meal in fact. A 15-minute meal in which you can easily serve two adults for less than $2.00/person. So why doesn't everyone make it all the time? Well, maybe it's just better in some cases to live in a little bit of ignorance. Do you really want to know that you just consumed 2/3 C cream, 2 T butter, and 1/2 C cheese? (If you don't, just pretend that sentence doesn't exist.)

Which calls forth a small confession. I thought we'd have leftovers for the next day. Um, no, we ate it all. Which is probably just as well, because the teeny half cup portion that was left that I ate later that night, it separated as cheesy creamy buttery things are wont to do.

Broccoli Alredo
adapted from The Best Recipes Cookbook
Serves 2-4 (we made our kids eat spaghetti and marinara)
Prep time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Cost: $3.30
(cream: 1.50, cheese: 1.00, broccoli: .50, butter: .30)

Note: As stated above if you make it through my ramblings, this doesn't make the best leftovers. Oh, they're still good and all, and since it separates you can poor some of the oil off, which may not be a bad thing. But it's not the same.

A word on simplicity: Traditionally this is made with fettuccine. We used spaghetti and that worked too, as would many different kinds of pasta. In The New Best Recipes Cookbook, they tell us we must make or purchase fresh fettuccine. "If money is really a concern, set aside a few hours on a Saturday afternoon to make your own homemade noodles and serve your guests genuinely fresh pasta for pennies." Pardon me, Christopher Kimball, while I roll my eyes and disentangle the toddler screaming at my ankles. If your "dinner guests" include people who are single-digit in age, spare yourself the food snobbery and use dry pasta. Look--I'm sure the homemade stuff is competely perfect (if you get it right), but our generic dry pasta was very very tasty too.

And now that I've thoroughly criticized the book from whence this recipe was inspired, let me say they had some great tips as well. In this recipe you cook the pasty to pre-aldente--you want it a little too firm and then you finish cooking it in the creamy stuff. And it's great--it sucks up some of the creaminess and the sauce has just the right amount of cling.

10-12 oz pasta
1 2/3 C cream (we used about 10 oz of pasta and thus a wee bit less cream; it makes us feel better about ourselves)
5 Tbsp butter
1 C Parmesan cheese
2 small heads broccoli

Get some water boiling. Salt it if you wish. I always forget. Add your pasta.

Chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces Put the broccoli in a microwave-safe bowl, add 1/2 C water, cover with plasic wrap and microwave for 2 1/2 minutes. You want it to have some bite when it comes out as you're going to cook it more with the cream mixture. (You don't have to microwave it; you can steam or boil it, but I think this is the fastest method and you'd be surprised how great microwaved broccoli comes out.)

While that all cooks, combine butter and 1 1/3 C cream until it is simmering very gently. You want it to reduce just a bit, but not too much. (When using spaghetti, the timing worked out just right. By the time the creamy stuff was simmering and just a bit reduced, the pasta and broccoli were ready to go in.)

When the pasta is not quite to the al dente point, drain it. (It should have some bite--the middle should still be a little hard.) Remove the broccoli from the microwave and carefully drain it as well. Add the pasta and broccoli to the cream mixture. Add the remaining 1/3 C cream, the Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste (and a little nutmeg if you're feeling feisty). Cook over low heat, stirring to combine the ingredients, until the sauce is slightly thickened. Note: You want the sauce to remain a little loose (not runny, but runny-ish to use a less pretty, but possibly clearer term) when it goes into the bowls/plates. As it cools it will thicken more. If it's totally thick when you take it off the heat, it'll end up a little dry and gummy.

Serve immediately.


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