Thursday, November 6, 2008

Quit the whining

Lately it seems everybody I talk with wants to whine about higher food prices. And they're right; in the past few years it's been getting outrageously expensive to go to the market and buy ripe mangos air freighted from Brazil and fresh lettuce from Mexico and hot chutney from East Africa which sometimes I can't even get; so I have to be satisfied with the inferior stuff from India.

And don't even get me started on how expensive it's getting to top off the shopping cart with those little frozen creampuffs and cashew nuts and seedless cucumbers from England and that breakfast cereal with the crunchy freeze dried strawberry slices that are so delicious they're probably harvested exclusively by virgins working under the light of the new moon.

Then there are the Costa Rican plutocrats who must think their Hearts of Palm are made of solid silver. Madonna! I just want the things to fancy up a salad, for God's sake. And the Sicilians - just how much more do they think I'm going to pay for their fattening damn Caponata in the little cans. The Chinese are a bit more reasonable with their Mandarin Orange segments; but even they're getting greedy.

So this week Linda and I stepped back into the past. We stepped back to simple, healthful, slow food, you might say. Slow, economical food, if I may say so myself.

Early in the afternoon on Sunday I started a pot of Goya Great Northern Beans. Ignoring the ridiculous recipe on the label, I rapid boiled a pound of beans in eight cups of water. Mexicans have a lot of guts even proposing a recipe for Pasta e' Fagioli, if you ask me, even if Mexicans are a tiny bit Italian, being diluted Spaniards who are basicly diluted Romans.

After about an hour, I drained and rinsed the beans with cold water so I could rough them up a bit by rubbing them between my hands to loosen the skins and float them away. Then I put the beans on the stove again with eight cups of water, a couple of teaspoons of salt and about half a cup of olive oil to slow simmer for a few hours until they pretty much disintegrated. That's the way Pop liked them, the way his mom made them, more like bean sauce with little broken up soft chunks than like intact beans in liquid.

A couple of hours before I shut off the heat under the pot I broke up a bulb of garlic and peeled and sliced the cloves. Like Mom and Aunt Mary R, I carefully sliced the first few cloves nice and thin; and then the slices might have gotten a bit thicker and less regular as I got tired of the task. I threw the garlic into the pot to simmer with the beans and then turned off the pot at about ten to cool down a bit so I could put it into the refrigerator at about midnight.

It was then a simple matter to come home on Monday at about 5:15, start a pot of water with a half a handful of salt in it for the Ditalini, dip about a third of the bean sauce into a saucepan to heat up, dump in a box of ditalini once the salted water was boiling, let the Ditalini boil for precisely the eight minute minimum for al dente specified on the package, poured off as much of the cooking water as I could without letting any of the Ditalini escape from the pot, poured in the now just boiling bean sauce to join the remaining water in with the Ditalini, and ladled the completed Pasta e' Fagioli into shallow bowls by 5:35.

Between us, Linda and I ate about one-third of the Pasta e' Fagioli for dinner, so the pot contained about six meals. There were also two more potfuls worth of bean sauce that I froze later. Figure two bucks for the beans and two bucks each for three boxes of Ditalini. Add in about three bucks for a cup and a half of olive oil and a buck for three bulbs of garlic. Total cost of eighteen meals? About twelve smackeroos. Sixty-six cents per meal.

And. . . I defy anyone to make a better meal, both from the perspective of health and from the perspective of taste, if taken with fresh Corropolese bread and a nice salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Plus the garlic will keep away vampires and other pests.

So quit your whining about the cost of food.

Food is costing us more because we're eating like decadent Roman aristocrats. No, that's not right. We're eating far better than pampered Roman aristocrats because we also get to enjoy Hearts of Palm from Costa Rica which add a nice crunch and flavor to our salads. And we have Cheetos and Mountain Dew, which are lots better tasting than flamingo tongues and sour wine.

Lucullus would have swooned with pleasure if given access to the foods we consider common; but they wouldn't have made him any happier.

I'll let Epicurus explain; "If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires."

Update: I forgot to say that I added a can of diced tomatoes to the pot early on in the process. I did that because I didn't have a little can of tomato paste or a medium can of tomato sauce. It's mostly for color anyway. Without something to make it a little bit red this soup looks pretty sickly. I'm too lazy to update the cost information above but a can of something tomato-ey costs about 60 or 80 cents, trivial.

Update 2: 80 86 64 88 :<(

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