Baked orzo with beef & mushrooms: $1.21/serving

Nothing particularly brilliant or groundbreaking about this meal; I had a little bit of beef sirloin and a small bowl of chopped shallots that needed to be used up, as well as a can of whole tomatoes from the pantry that was already two months past its sell-by date (one of the pitfalls of buying in bulk at Grocery Outlet). It would’ve been easy to just grind up the beef and make a simple sauce to serve over pasta, but I added mushrooms and orzo and chose to bake it for something a little different. If this sounds like it might be up your alley, feel free to experiment with different kinds of ground meat, different mushrooms, and even different cheese (I used Parmesan because it’s what I had), as your budget permits.

As below it makes about 5 servings; plenty for lunch leftovers.

• 1/4 lb. cremini mushrooms, stemmed and chopped: $1.17
• 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped (I used the food processor): 99 cents
• 8 oz. orzo: 84 cents
• 1/2-3/4 lb. ground beef (I just ground the sirloin I had): $1.75
• 2 T oil (plus a little extra for greasing the pan): 7 cents
• 1/3 cup chopped shallots, or 1 small onion, chopped: 25 cents
• 3 cloves garlic, minced: 3 cents
• 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese: 90 cents
• 1/2 tsp dried thyme (garden)*: $0
• 1/2 tsp dried oregano: 3 cents
• Salt & pepper to taste: 2 cents
TOTAL: $6.05/5 = $1.21/serving

*Whenever I cut too much fresh thyme from the garden I save the extra sprigs and dry them, then break off the leaves and store them in a small jar.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots or onion and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Add the beef and cook until no longer pink. Add the mushrooms and cook until most of the liquid has been evaporated, about 7-8 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, thyme, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste and cook until sauce is thickened, about 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo until al dente according to package directions. Drain.

Mix into the thickened sauce.

Grease a 13×9 Pyrex dish with oil. Pour half the orzo-sauce mixture into the bottom. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan.

Pour the other half of the orzo mixture over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling on top.

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