Though we try to plan out all our meals in advance to make sure everything we buy gets used, sometimes things just don’t work out as intended. Given our shopping habits, we have a lot of staples in the house, such as grains and things that can be frozen long term, but not a surplus of fresh or particularly useful items, like produce or cheese—especially near the end of the week. That makes coming up with meals on the fly without having to stop at the grocery store or compromise upcoming dishes a particular challenge. This light but satisfying dinner (it would also make a good lunch) came together with nothing but scrounged items from the yard and basement—a handful of fresh sage leaves, half a package of pasta, some frozen bread crumbs, and a small, elderly sweet potato nearing the end of its useful life.
Making a pasta dish taste good without sauce or cheese wasn’t easy; as a substitute I used a few splashes of lime juice mixed with salt and pasta cooking water, with crunchy roasted garlic bread crumbs as a topping.
The amounts below are a light meal for 2.
• 1 small sweet potato, about 8 oz., peeled and cut into small cubes: 40 cents
• 13 or so large sage leaves, chopped (garden): $0
• 8 oz. farfalle (or other chunky pasta; substitute vegan pasta if desired): 50 cents
• 1 cup coarse good-quality bread crumbs: $0
• 4 T olive oil: 24 cents
• 2 cloves garlic, minced or press through a garlic press: 6 cents
• A few splashes of lime juice (yes, I have a plastic bottle of the stuff for emergencies such as this): 15 cents
• Salt: 1 cent
TOTAL: $1.36/2 = 68 cents
Preheat the oven to 350.
Put a pot of heavily salted water on to boil for the pasta.
Heat 2 T of the olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat; add the garlic, stir about 30 seconds. Add the bread crumbs, stirring well to coat, and cook for a few minutes until all the oil has been absorbed. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes, until well browned and crunchy. Set aside.
Peel the sweet potato and cut it into small cubes. Heat the other 2 T olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, preferably cast iron. Add the potatoes, sage, and a pinch of salt. Cook until the potatoes are slightly browned on all sides, then reduce the heat to medium and cover the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, checking and stirring often. It’s OK to get a little char on them, but you don’t want them to be burnt all over. And you want the texture to be soft, but not falling apart.
Cook the pasta until al dente; just a minute or two short of the package directions should suffice. Save about 1/4 cup of the starchy cooking water before you drain it. Add the drained pasta to the skillet with the potatoes. Enough water should come off the pasta itself to scrape up some of the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet; if the pan starts to go dry, add some more cooking water. As you’re stirring the pasta to combine with the potatoes (adding pasta water as necessary), add a few splashes of lime juice and a few pinches of fine-grain salt to taste, stirring well to combine. Don’t add so much that the lime juice or salt are super-obvious; add just enough so the pasta has some flavor and the lime juice brings out the sweetness of the potato.
Serve in bowls, topped with the garlic bread crumbs for some crunch.