A few weeks ago at the grocery store, as I was being shaken down for all I’m worth in front of the egg shelf, a woman next to me gasped as she looked at the prices. We’re all trying to combat skyrocketing costs, and meal planning can save you from impulse buying and wasting food down the road.
But planning meals isn’t always intuitive.
So, I’ve picked three easy recipes to help illustrate how you might go about it: a quick white bean and celery ragout, a luscious celery-leek soup and a creamy, oniony pasta. Each serves at least four and up to eight (hello, leftovers!), and two can be made vegan (just skip the optional dairy topping). Here’s the relatively budget-friendly grocery list:
1 head garlic
2 large leeks
1 bunch scallions
1 bunch parsley
1 very large bunch celery (a little more than a pound)
1 russet potato
2 medium zucchini
1 small container crème fraîche
Parmesan (a small block or small container will do)
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans
1 small jar store-bought pesto (optional)
2 (32-ounce) boxes vegetable stock
1 pound long noodles, like linguine or spaghetti
Bread (for serving, only if you’d like)
I’m guessing that you already have salt, black pepper and olive oil in the pantry, and it’s quite possible you have dried bay leaves and dried thyme on hand, too. If not, add them to the list!
There are two key strategies I employ when I’m trying to build a meal plan and create a pared-down shopping list:
1. Look for ingredient overlap. Using up leftover ingredients from one recipe in another dish with a distinct flavor profile is essential. The celery-leek soup will leave you with exactly 1 cup of vegetable stock, which is just the amount you need for the ragout. And any parsley left over from the soup and beans also makes a great garnish on the pasta.
I find this approach most helpful when the overlap is with “bunched” produce, like celery or scallions, or tubs of dairy that I don’t cook with daily, like crème fraîche. Ideally, you would buy fewer short-shelf-life items and use your pantry to supplement flavors and textures.
2. Make smart substitutions. Sometimes, life gets in the way of making a recipe exactly as written. Using dried bay leaves and thyme in place of fresh in the celery-leek soup can be more economical.
Some swaps may not be as obvious. To avoid buying a bottle of pinot grigio for one dish, just use 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons water to replace the acidity of the ¼ cup dry white wine in the celery-leek soup (a tip from the developer, Alexa Weibel). And though “chive” may be in the pasta recipe name, you can make it with the scallions leftover from the ragout. New York Times Cooking commenters who struggled to find fresh chives swear by it! Ali Slagle recommends using a slightly smaller amount of sliced scallions than chives, and you can add the white parts in Step 2 alongside the pasta water to soften them.
Creamy Chive Pasta With Lemon
One More Thing!
Did you happen to buy a bunch of celery with lots of leaves? You’re in luck! Not only should you use them to garnish the ragout, but they are a key element in a truly killer nonalcoholic drink.
To create the base for Rebekah Peppler’s complex, vegetal celery sour mocktail — my favorite drink to have at home — steep 1 cup of celery leaves and any remaining parsley leaves in a simple syrup spiked with black peppercorns and allspice. I prepare this mixture every time I buy celery now. And while the complete cocktail is divine, I often mix the syrup with just seltzer and a bit of lime juice for an even breezier beverage.
Cheers! See you next week.
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