Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Look, It's Pretend Ratatouille!

Last month I challenged myself to a two weeks of Zero Food Budget (not buying anything at all) and to attempting to empty the chest freezer so I could defrost around the edges.  I was successful on the first but not so much on the second because there was more fruit in the freezer than I had thought.   I ate pretty much everything else but I could not keep going on just fruit, so I decided to put a moratorium on the freezer-clearing plan for a little while.  In the meantime, I've been keeping the budget pretty low necessarily, but I have managed to stock the freezer a little bit with bread, lentil burgers and a broccoli-only Veggie Upside Down (the recipe for that is here). 

Yesterday, though, I knew that I needed to buy some veg and get some more variety saved up because this month's budget is looking a bit rough already.  I went shopping aware  that my absolute limit was $15 so I knew that I would have to do my best with whatever veggies were on markdown.  And, oh noes, wouldn't you just know it.....guess what was in the clearance basket:

Yeah, eggplant.  Lots of big huge eggplant.  I don't like eggplant. 

There was no point being fussy about it:  I've gotta eat and it's 0bviously gonna be eggplant.    And there was no possibility of waiting either since one of the eggplants was threatening to turn fuzzy, so I made the recipe that I concocted during a previous Eggplant Emergency.  It's called Pretend Ratatouille.  I could swear I've posted the recipe before but I can't find it, so here you go.  Please note that this is NOT Real Ratatouille--that has different ingredients and a different cooking method.  This is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants imitation and, as such, any amounts and any ingredients (other than eggplant, the star of the show) are variable: 

  • 2 or 3 eggplant, peeled and cubed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Boiling water
  • 2 cans of cheap-o storebrand stewed tomatoes (I use Shur-Fine, not kidding)
  • a tablespoon or two of basil (I grow lemon basil in my garden--it's so good!)

Preheat a heavy kettle on medium high.  (This is an important step because it will enhance the flavor of the oil.)  Add oil.  Toss in eggplant and stir well.  It will, annoyingly, sop up all of the olive oil immediately and start sticking to the pot, so add a cup or so of boiling water (needs to be boiling so you don't stop the cooking action; the water has the added effect of making the flavor of the eggplant less sharp).  Add basil.  Lower heat.  Cover.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring now and then.  Add more water (but not too much!) if necessary.

Preheat oven to 375.  Oil casserole or heavy baking pan (be aware that  you may need more than one if there is a lot of product).  Keep the volume wider than it is tall so that the veggies cook evenly.  Add canned tomatoes to the eggplant.  Pour into pan(s).  Bake uncovered for about 25 minutes.

Let cool.  Store in single portions for the freezer.

Serve over pasta, rice, noodles, bread, whatever you may happen to have.  Makes a nice sandwich, too, if you drain off the liquid.  But save that liquid--use it to flavor ramen.  Nothing wasted.

You might have noticed that I have not mentioned salt or pepper; I prefer not to add that until serving time.  If you elect to attempt this recipe, you must do as you think best with seasoning.

Steaming hot Pretend Ratatouille ready to go into the oven:

Now I know that I should have added zucchini.  And I actually would have liked to add mushrooms and thinly sliced onions.  I would seriously have preferred to add at least one more can of tomatoes.  But I couldn't.  I maxed out the food budget at $15.31, and self-control is important when you're working things out (besides, I wanted butter and that was non-negotiable; it costs a dollar less at my local grocery than it does anywhere else, including WallyWorld).

So here's what $1.98 worth of clearance sale eggplant and two .85 cent cans of stewed tomatoes will get you (by the way, that adds up to $3.96 when you include tax):

That's a dozen meals.  I split this into 2/3 cup portions which is a fairly generous single-serve amount at a fairly low price--that's .33 cents per meal.  I may not like eggplant but I can live with that. 

Since I haven't got enough small containers, I'm freezing in Texas-size muffin tins, and I'll repackage the portions into freezer bags later.

Fortunately, I also found some clearance sale tomatoes, and those will become Tomato Dressing (see The Best Comfort Food Ever) so that's something nice to look forward to.  And I'm thinking of making Ginger Robin Cake, too, just because it's so good to enjoy with tea (and that recipe is here). 

Life is good (even when circumstances present you with lots of eggplant).  I am, believe it or not, very grateful.

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