First Tuesday of the month: Tight Ass dinner. Theme chosen by last month’s most impressive tightwad: picnic food. Incredibly mundane response: pasta salad. Level of satisfaction with meal: priceless.
This month’s theme, as articulated by June’s cheapest ass, and I really do mean that in the nicest possible way, is:
July is summertime – let’s do picnic fare – something you can pack up and take to the beach, or your backyard, or even a lovely, lovely meadow filled with wildflowers.
So anyway, grab your pic-a-nic baskets and see who’s cheaper than the average bear.
My favorite picnic food is even more mundane than pasta salad: a sandwich. Unfortunately, my sandwiches usually aren’t cheap anymore and they probably won’t be until I get better about baking my own bread, which I plan to do soon, as soon as I get used to waking up an hour earlier to get a run in before work and can tack on extra time for prepping bread dough. And I dig a cave under my building and hope I live in a microclimate where prosciutto can be cheaply and reliably cured.*
(That waking-up-early-to-run thing is a lie, so we can pretty much write off the bread baking, too.)
Of course, my favorite picnic also happens in the living room because there’s WAY too much nature outside, so I may not be your picnic go-to person. There are a lot of crawly things out there, and they have a marked tendency to ignore my personal space. Sometimes water, ice, or even giant jolts of electricity shoot out of the sky with no warning. Also, bears. All these things are Jesus’ way of telling me to stay indoors. (I will venture out to cycle because although you do hit a lot of bugs it does make it easier to avoid the bears, and I get to hear Phil Liggett yelling in my head. “SHE’S TURNED HERSELF INSIDE OUT!”)
*This is actually my very favorite sandwich. It will become yours, too, if you’re a meat eater.
Other than the incredibly unoriginal sandwich, I like a nice salad when dining al fresco. Most classic picnic and barbeque salads, the kind where you take perfectly nice ingredients like pasta or potatoes or cabbage and decide inexplicably to coat them in gobs of mayonnaise, make me want to hurl. I have recently discovered a buttermilk-dressed slaw that I can tolerate, and I’ve perfected a mayo-less potato salad that makes picnic-goers swoon. It is, therefore, time to tackle the final frontier of disgusting mayo-coated salads: pasta salad.
Of all the things to cover in mayonnaise – which should be used ONLY to (1) moisten a turkey sandwich, (2) make tuna or (3) be mixed with garlic, chile, mango chutney or smoked eggplant* to make a dip for French fries – pasta is perhaps the most personally upsetting. If I ever want to completely alienate my nonna, my zii and zie, all my cousins, their neighbors, friends and co-workers, I will tell them that in the US we cover pasta in mayonnaise.
Plus, mayo-coated food + extended time in the heat = blech, although the Association of Dressings and Sauces would beg to differ. (I don’t care if it doesn’t actually turn. It’s still gross.)
*If this seems alien to you, you’ve obviously never been to Pommes Frites on 2nd Avenue just south of St. Mark’s Place. And that is a problem you need to FIX.
So: a pasta salad, no mayo, not completely boring, tasty whether hot, cold or middling. I decided to go with something vaguely Middle Eastern-ish. Maybe Turkish? Iranian-ish? I have no idea, hence the name.
In any case, I thought a base of orzo with some dried apricots and pistachios would be a nice base (or almonds, for an extra boost of ass-tightening). Some red onion for added crunch and flavor punch. Some mint, because it seemed like a good idea and the pot of mint on the patio needed to be tamed before the tentacles it was sending down the side of the container and across the garden floor reached the already-beleaguered rose bush and chocked the life out of it. Or it tried to choke one of the dogs; that shit grows like a mofo.
I thought it could use more protein, so I went with some lightly fried, spiced chickpeas. If this were part of a larger picnic meal, I’d probably leave well enough alone and pair it with some pita and hummus and a sweet, juicy melon. For dinner, though, chickpeas.
While the orzo cooked, I chopped all the raw ingredients, rinsed some chickpeas and tossed them into a pan with a hit of olive oil, cayenne, cardamom and smoked paprika.
I’m not really sure those spices go together, but it seemed to work out in the end.
When the orzo came off the heat, I mixed in the apricots and onions to give the apricots a chance to plump and the onions a few minutes to sit in the orzo’s retained heat and lose just a little of their edge so they wouldn’t overpower the other flavors. I kept the chickpeas frying a bit longer to try and get a little color on ’em and let the spices permeate the oil and penetrate the legumes. When I was satisfied with them, I stirred them into the orzo along with the pistachios; the fresh mint went last. Another glug of olive oil, a seasoning test (Salted exactly right? What are the chances?) and voila: a picnic-worthy dinner.
Actually, just a dinner-worthy dinner, because I will gladly eat this in any locale – living room, kitchen, den, glassed-in or mesh-covered room that approximates the out of doors. This is a truly worthy melding of flavors and textures: well-seasoned pasta; sweet, chewy apricots; subtle nutty pistachios, crunchy red onions, their onion-y wings ever so barely clipped; chickpeas with a spicy, slightly crusty exterior giving way to a warm, creamy interior; additional spices adding some more depth of flavor and the freshest of all possible mints. The quantities of each were such that just about every bite had a little bit of everything, just what you want with a salad like this. (And the whole she-bang took 18 minutes. Fucking A!)
A cup of orzo plus the add-ins easily made enough for four, it was almost a shame we weren’t actually going to a picnic. However, I did eat this while looking out the window at a tree.
Apricot, Pistachio and Spiced Chickpea Orzo Salad
Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a side
1 c. orzo
5 oz. dried apricots, roughly chopped
1 medium red onion, diced
4 oz. unsalted green pistachios (or almonds, to bring the price down)
8 oz. chickpeas
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
2 tbsp. fresh mint, roughly chopped
Put a quart of water on to boil. When it hits the boil, add a tablespoon of salt (kosher; halve this if using table salt) and cook the orzo according to package directions. While the orzo cooks…
Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Add them to a skillet over medium heat. Cook off the water, then add a tablespoon of olive oil and the cayenne, paprika and cardamom. Toss the chickpeas to coat, and let them sizzle for 5-7 minutes until they’re all saturated with the spicy oil and have begun to take on some color.
When the orzo is drained, mix in the apricots and onions. Give them a few minutes to relax into the hot pasta before adding the chickpeas and pistachios.
Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil and toss to coat. Check for seasoning. Add the mint just before serving. (If I actually were taking this to a picnic, I’d bring the mint separately and mix it in at the last minute, because I’m anal like that.)
Orzo (or other pasta), olive oil, spices = pantry staples.
Mint = Free
Apricots = $2.43
Pistachios = $2.77
Red Onion = $0.66
Chickpeas = $0.60
Total: $6.27, or $1.62 per person.
Tight ass salad with pistachios? Totally not mundane. This looks really, really good.
I would so totally eat that.
How fucking cheap is that? You are getting scary good at this!
Man, FUCK mayonnaise. This is where I developed my aversion to potlucks, you know. Everything was coated in fucking mayonnaise, which I detest (even more than you, since I can think of nowhere that I would eat it, not even on a turkey sandwich), so I had to stick to eating nothing but watermelon and jell-o. I’m a huge fan of buttermilk slaw, though. It’s so good, and so much less fattening as a side benefit.
OMG – You always crack me up. Just woke the baby up because I was laughing so hard!
You know those times when you would feel so much better if you could JUST THROW UP? My best friend says two little words to herself: mayonnaise milkshake.
Works every time.
My brothers use the term “ish” instead of “shit” so that my mother won’t yell at them for cursing. Imagine the horrible mental image that went through my mind when I read “Ish Salad.”
Thankfully, your photos were pretty much the opposite of that.
I think I can actually do this one…. 🙂
Ewww mayo salads. Gross.
Ok, so this salad so looked amazing. But then… you had to link to that sandwich… And now all I want is a big hunk of medium rare steak and a pile of caramelized onions!
kickpleat, i just received a report from brian, who took the leftovers to work today, that it is also really, really good at room temperature. mission accomplished!
toylady, if only you were here! so sad.
anna, nah, people participate who are even cheaper. it’s a little scary.
kristie, those potlucks sound terrifying. i still have nightmares about the paula deen casserole with all the mayo, so i can imagine your pain.
i’m so sorry.
kristin, heh. hopefully the baby was lulled awake to your soothing peals of laughter.
emily, i’m totally trying that, because whenever i get sick from food my body REFUSES to throw up. that might do the trick, because i almost horked just sitting here.
jc, i’m glad my photos didn’t actually look like feces. i’ve been working on that.
sarah, there’s virtually no actual cooking! hell, if you wanted to you could probably just drain and rinse the chickpeas and toss them with the spices, and then all it is is cooking pasta and chopping shit.
emily, the sandwich is NO JOKE. the gorgonzola butter is really the kicker, you have to try it.
Right up my alley. I love all the ingredients, even the bizarro spice mixture. Yum, yum, yum.
I almost horked typing that shit. I was a little hungover this morning…
Now THAT’S the way to do an orzo salad. Love it.
That looks really good, and I hate pasta salads. But like mayo-ish potato salad & coleslaw (with enough mustard and/or creamy horseradish), so …
My idea of picnic fare is just to pile a bunch of cheeses, salami, olives, crackers, and wine into a basket. Or if feeling fancy my mom’s gazpacho (which probably is cheap). Unfortunately last night found us at a minor league baseball game, after eating some really quick turkey sandwiches on whole wheat (probably cheap, definitely not bloggable). The sandwich on the link? Oh yeah. Better than steak – prosciutto (the real stuff not that fake Volpi crap) with gorgonzola and arugula on a panini.
Hi! Soooooooo, I made this last night as a side dish. Very very good. Instructions true to the letter (which is more than I can say about many professional cookbooks……..). The only change was a splash of lime juice rather than one more blast of salt (although salt and I will always be close buddies).
I teamed it with sole lightly dredged in flour that was flavored with madras curry, cumin and cayenne. Also steamed some asparagus. It was in the spirit of tightass since I had the fish and asparagus and needed to use it.
One comment about your rules. It does not seem fair that if it is in your pantry, it is free–ie pasta and mint. They did not magically appear there….
christie, this salad taught me to love dried apricots. when paired with all the other stuff, they cease to squick em as they once did.
emily, the repetition of the word hork is making me want to hork.
jaden, i do like to do it up right. it’s how i roll.
erika, that’s my ideal picnic too, it’s just hard to get it under $5. i could live on cured pork, cheese and bread.
michelle, yay, i’m glad you liked it! and that the recipe actually worked, i feel like i’m always half-assing the instructions. the fish-spice-asparagus combo sounds great.
it is true that pasta and mint do not magically appear in my pantry, sadly. the rules, which were arbitrarily created by me, exempt pantry staples and home-grown items; the idea is to make meals supplemented by stuff you’d have around anyway, even if you weren’t making this particular meal – that money’s already been spent. if people want to be hard-core and include every ingredient, then more power to them! maybe that’ll be the theme for an upcoming event…
there are other great blogs doing even cheaper food and counting every ingredient, doing really low weekly budgets, etc. good stuff. of course, all the names are escaping me right now.
Hah! Thanks for the response. I am certainly not attempting to be hard core but am merely pulling your chain a bit.
My husband, Patrick, and I love your blog, and because I am also a lapsed attorney speaking to another lapsed lawyer (and sometimes have nothing better to do than dink with other individuals use of the language), and because I like to think you can give ribbing as well as take it, allow me to continue with my issue with free ingredients from the pantry.
If you define “pantry” as inexpensive basic items that you already have, but are stored unrefrigerated, I guess I can buy the definition. However, a devious creative mind like my own could get a little more loosey, goosey with the language–
“…exempt pantry staples and home-grown items; the idea is to make meals supplemented by stuff you’d have around anyway, even if you weren’t making this particular meal – that money’s already been spent….”
“Stuff you already have around” may be all kinds of wonderful and hopelessly expensive items, tucked in your freezer for instance, duck breasts, lobster tails etc. that were previously bought. Just as bad, if you define “pantry” as counter or cupboard storage that is not refrigerated, it could be that little jar of foie gras that friends brought from France. The possibilities are endless……
But in the spirit of your category here (not to mention common sense approach), my fish was sole bought very inexpensively from Costco, and the asparagus was leftover from the 4th and needed to be steamed or it would spoil.
michele, if you were to go that route, you would not be the first to play fast and loose with the definition of “pantry staple.” i deliberately left a loophole there (i could have defined staple items – flour, oil, sugar, etc – rather than leaving it subjective) because i want people to be on the honor system. also because i take an anal-retentive’s pleasure in seeing who nudges the definition in what way.
also, are you saying duck breasts aren’t a pantry staple? wait just a second here…
glad you and patrick like it here, and thanks for piping up!
I did it and it was GOOD!!! Although, while cooking, I realized we didn’t have any cardamom . So, I made it without any and it was still good! I’ll have to go buy some. Keep the easy recipes coming!! 🙂
Oh yeah, I didn’t realize Orzo was pasta! I thought it was rice so food shopping took a bit longer… You think it would be good with rice as an alternative?
I have a feeling this would be awesome with brown rice instead of orzo to bump up the nutritional content. I’ve never thought of cooking with apricots, but love to eat them (although when you finish a whole container in one sitting….) and cant wait to try out this recipe. Thanks for the great idea! (and, i’m totally coming here next week when you liveblog top chef, this season is crazy absurd/awesome-hat-filled)
sarah, yay! i’m glad you guys liked it so much. i’m trying to keep tuesday nights easier, so hopefully i can add some more to your repertoire. (and definitely make the chili, you guys will love it.)
deb, it would be awesome with brown rice. with wheatberries too, which is probably what i’ll do next time.
see you wednesday for top chef! hopefully the comment section will be as raucous as last week.
Thanks for the inspiration Michelle – I made this salad but used quinoa instead. A big hit! Sauteeing the chickpeas makes all the difference.
karen, double yay! i love it when i manage to actually make something somewhat original that people love.
i’ll probably throw some together with quinoa or wheatberries next week for a few days’ worth of lunches.
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