Fresh pappardelle with chicken-liver sauce: 75 cents/serving

If you blindfolded the average person, drove them off-site, served them this meal with a side salad and told them they were eating a $24.95 entree at a French restaurant, I can pretty much guarantee they’d believe you. (And if you don’t believe me about the price difference, know that pasta dishes have the highest profit margin in almost all restaurants.)

Granted, it takes a bit of work and skill to prepare, but if you’re looking to impress for less than the price of a bag of chips, this is your dish.

I’ll come out and admit right now that I love foie gras. I know it’s wrong in all kinds of ways, but if it’s on offer at a dinner that I’m not paying for, I’m going to order it, and to me this tastes very similar. Even if you think liver isn’t your thing, there’s a high likelihood of this dish changing your mind.

The recipe below makes 4 servings.

• 1/2 lb. chicken livers: 81 cents
• 1 cup milk: 50 cents
• 3 small French shallots (from a 99-cent bag), minced: 12 cents
• Zest from 3/4 lemon: 3o cents
• 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme (garden): $0
• 2 small cloves garlic, minced: 6 cents
• 1/4 cup dry sherry:  20 cents
• 1 T canola oil: 3 cents
• 1 1/2 cups flour: 25 cents
• 4 T unsalted butter: 24 cents
• 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk: 30 cents
• Salt to taste: 1 cent
• Pepper to taste: 1 cent
TOTAL: $2.98/4 = 75 cents/serving 

Trim any fat hanging off the livers, rinse them, and soak them in the 1 cup of milk for about an hour. This both tenderizes them and gives them a milder flavor.

Sure, you can skip the making-your-own-pasta step and buy fresh pappardelle. But that ain’t gonna be cheap, and making pasta just isn’t that hard. I’m of the firm belief everyone should try it at least once. Even if you screw up royally, you’re still going to come out with something edible.

Pile the 1 1/2 cups flour, mixed with about 1 tsp salt, on a clean counter or large cutting board. Make a well in the center, crack the egg and into it, add the egg yolk, and beat slightly with a fork. Gradually start incorporating flour into the beaten egg. Slowly incorporate more and more until a dough is starting to form; add water if needed—I usually have to add about half a cup or more. Search YouTube for videos of someone doing this (there are many) if it sounds nerve-wracking to you. Knead dough for about 8-9 minutes, until the pasta dough is velvety-smooth and supple. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let rest for about 30 minutes.

Once it has rested, cut the dough ball into quarters (keeping the spare pieces under a damp towel or plastic wrap so they don’t dry out) and either roll out it out with a rolling pin on a floured surface to the desired thinness (make sure it’s even), or use a pasta machine,  stopping on the second-to-last thinness setting. Hand-cut into wide noodles, dust lightly with flour, and set somewhere to dry slightly. (If you have enough counter space, lucky you. I had them hanging pretty much everywhere.)

When the chicken livers are done, drain them, rinse them, and pat them dry. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 T canola oil. Add the chicken livers and sear on both sides. Add the thyme, garlic, and shallot and sauté until the livers are cooked through. When cooked, deglaze the pan with the sherry, scraping up any browned bits. When almost all the liquid is gone, transfer the pan contents to a food processor and purée. With the machine still on, add the butter one T at a time. Add lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste.

In a large pot of heavily salted boiling water, add the pappardelle (try to add it all at one time; you may have to drape it over both arms) and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Drain, reserving some of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pan and add the chicken-liver sauce. Make sure the pasta is thoroughly coated; if it’s drying out, add a little bit of the pasta water. Serve immediately.

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