When you're hungry and there's seemingly nothing in your pantry or fridge, you might be tempted to drop $15 on takeout. Instead, you could take a page from cookbook authors Guy Ambrosino and Kate Winslow and call on the resourcefulness of past generations.
In "Onions Etcetera: The Essential Allium Cookbook," Ambrosino and his wife Winslow share with readers a recipe for fried water soup, a meal that costs just $0.48 per serving, and one that Ambrosino says "illustrates the saying that necessity is the mother of invention."
The story goes that Ambrosino's Italian great-grandmother started making fried water soup when there were just a few eggs, onions, and some stale bread in the house. "What was once something that was made because that was all they could make to feed and nourish their family is now made because it reminds us of ancestors and of our warm memories of sitting with family and friends around a table," he says. "Plus, it is truly delicious and satisfying."
Here's how to make fried water soup, as well as some other meals that are easy to make when you have little on hand or are trying to save money.
If you want to stretch what you have at home, "learn to make a good omelet, and a good frittata," Ambrosino says. If you know how to make a few staples easily and quickly, with limited ingredients, you won't be tempted to eat out, he says.
Instead of impulsively ordering in food, take a beat to plan, he suggests. "There are many nights when we open the fridge and don't see much there, but if we take a few extra minutes to think, we realize that we can utilize that leftover kale from two nights ago along with that heel of Manchego from last week's party as well as the eggs we always have. Voila, we have the makings of a frittata."
Always keep eggs on hand, he suggests. "Best advice ever: Always, always have eggs in the house — you will never go hungry if you have an egg."
Learning just three kitchen skills will save you money, Ambrosino says. His first recommendation is to learn to make any type of stock, beef, vegetable, or chicken. "Even if you buy a rotisserie chicken, keep the carcass for making stock, which will go into making future soups, risottos, and sauces. A freezer full of stock means there is dinner in your future."
He also recommends learning how to chop and break down vegetables because "precut veggies at the supermarket are so much more expensive, and who knows how long they've been sitting on the shelf!"
If you don't know the best way to dice an onion or chop a carrot, you can find knife skills videos featuring chefs Jacques Pepin and Jamie Oliver on YouTube. Or you can even take an online vegetable skills course at The Milk Street Cooking School for $39.
The third way to save is to learn how to make a basic vinaigrette. Once you get the hang of it, you can make a variety of dressings, he explains. "Swapping out vinegars, oils, and seasonings to create different [flavor] profiles — you'll never have to buy bottled dressing again, which is so full of gunk and fillers and sodium anyways."
Ambrosino and Winslow's son is starting high school, and they're thrilled that he has the option to take a culinary arts course. "It shouldn't be an elective — it should be a requirement," Ambrosino says. "Culinary arts is arguably the only one [class] that will teach him skills that he will use every single day of his life. And that's why they used to call it home economics — because it helped teach you how much things cost and why it's more economical to cook at home rather than eat out. It's a true life skill."
- 4 medium yellow onions, sliced $0.80
- ⅓ cup olive oil $0.42
- 5 cups water
- 4 large eggs $0.40
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 thick slices stale bread $0.30
- Combine onions and olive oil in a large skillet and cook gently over moderate heat ("low and slow," as Aggie says) until onions are softened and shiny but have not taken on any color, about 10 minutes. Add water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer until the onions are soft, silky, and can "melt in your mouth," about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, beat eggs with 1 teaspoon salt. Turn off the heat under the onions and slowly drizzle in the eggs, stirring all the while with a fork — the eggs will cook into soft threads. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
- To serve, set out 4 shallow soup bowls and lay a slice of stale bread in each. Ladle the fried water over the bread and serve at once.
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