Two Recipes for the Impoverished Middle Classes

If, like me, you enjoy cooking and eating well but face severe budgetary constrictions, look no further. I am, I’m afraid to say, too much of aspiring snob to live off tins of baked beans and sweetcorn. And so I’ve had to learn how to be pretentious on a budget — and you can too.

A note: I can’t give you precise measurements. The recipes are very flexible and an extra tomato here or another clove of garlic there doesn’t particularly matter. I personally subscribe to the Keith Floyd method, also known as Organised Chaos, and indeed this laissez-faire attitude is easier with a bottle of something to hand.

Game Sausage Ragu

ragu.jpg
Venison ragu, imperfectly presented — my basil arrangement is scandalous — but nevertheless rather delicious

I know what you’re thinking: game’s expensive, is it not? Well, not with this recipe.  5 or 6 portions will only cost you £4.10-£5 in total.

What you’ll need:

  • 6 game sausages £2.50 (I recommend the venison or wild boar sausages that are available at many supermarkets)
  • 1 onion £0.30
  • 2 cloves of garlics £0.30 for the entire bulb
  • 1 whole tin of chopped tomatoes £0.50
  • Tomatoe puree £0.50
  • Few teaspoons of salt
  • (Optional: sweet peppers £0.90)
  • (Optional: parmigiano £2.30, but will keep you going for weeks)
  • (Optional: basil £1 for a pot, and if you look after it expect a month-long lifespan at least)

Method:

  1. Decase all 6 sausages by running a knife through the casing and sliding it off. Then mix the sausage meat together into one big lump.
  2. Add a small bit of oil to a pan and bring to medium heat. While waiting, chop up the onion, garlic and/or peppers.
  3. Fry the sausage meat, onions and/or peppers, stirring and stabbing frequently to make sure the meat breaks up.
  4. When the meat looks about cooked, or nearly there, add the garlic for a minute.
  5. Empty the chopped tomatoes and tomato puree into the pan, along with whatever you happen to be drinking (I recommend a cheap, supermarket-brand rich cream sherry).
  6. Season with salt, turn down to simmer and leave for an hour or two (though checking on the ragu every so often to make sure it doesn’t dry out).
  7. Whenever you’re ready, serve the ragu or separate it out into single portions and freeze in little tuppelware boxes or freezer bags. (Or refridgerate; it will last a few days.)

Polenta

This isn’t a recipe so much as a remarkably cheap (and long-lasting) alternative to potato. Polenta is a cornmeal-like substance originating among the peasants of Italy. But like all peasant food, we middle classes have long since appropriated it. One bag is about £1, and out of it I reckon you can get a dozen meals worth, maybe more.

You boil the polenta until it thickens into a doughy texture, mixing in various ingredients to suit your needs. Then either serve it straight away or let it cool and harden so that you can fry it or even make it into a cake. (It’s also perfectly fine to freeze in batches.)

polenta with homemade sauce better
A quick polenta snack

You could be rustic and just add butter and salt, then cut it up in chunks and fry them off as polenta ‘chips’. For that extra je ne sais quoi, I like to serve the chips in a separate bowl and delicately sprinkle rosemary and parmigiano on top of them.

(A sidenote: never buy rosemary. You can pinch a spring from virtually anywhere, be it outside a train station or in some poor chap’s front garden.)

A favourite recipe of mine is to mix in butter, dill, thyme, parsley, and whatever else needs using up and serve it straight off of the boil as creamy polenta. There’s no need to be shy in adding ingredients, for the taste of polenta alone is quite unremarkable.

Of course one doesn’t eat polenta by itself. If frying polenta, you could also fry off some sausages, peppers and onions too. Or you could purchase from Iceland their exceptionally good ostrich fillets, priced at only £1.75 a fillet. When particularly desperate, I may just fry off chicken thighs with various vegetables.

You could do something similar with creamy polenta, or you could serve it with the above-described ragu in place of pasta, so long as whatever you’ve put in the polenta compliments the ragu.

And if all else fails, start watching Posh Nosh as soon as possible:

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