February 10, 1975 | Vintage Insatiable

The $10 Challenge: Feasting on the Cheap—Marcella Hazan

 

          Show us how to feed four celestially, with wine, for $10, New York asked three talented cooks…visions of chicken hearts en brochette haunting our sensibilities. Off they went in pursuit of mousse and soufflé, chowder and inflation-sapping husbandry in the markets of three city neighborhoods. They nearly triumphed…Here’s how Marcella Hazan shopped.

 

Posh Penny-Pinching

 

          An Italian dinner for four on $10. It’s not much of a challenge to Marcella Hazan. “If you start with pasta, you don’t spend much money on meat.” But she is wary of the seductive lures and arrogant prices in the East Seventies. “Still, time is money. So I shop near home.” As a teacher of Italian cooking, Marcella emphasizes quality, not economy. She sends students to her own butcher, Akron, at 1386 Third Avenue near 79th Street, where the best white veal costs $6.98 a pound and the best of the best is, quite frankly, reserved for Akron faithful.

 

          But certain thrifts are instinctive. Like nurturing a jug of homemade vinegar brewed from the leavings of red wine at dinner. “It won’t work in a closet,” Marcella notes, explaining the crock’s homely presence on her hall table. And of course it makes sense to grow your own herbs. Rosemary, especially, is almost too tough to kill.

 

          For pork to braise in milk, a recipe from her splendid Classic Italian Cookbook, spinach to sauté in garlic-scented oil, and fruit—“whatever is cheapest”—for a macédoine, she shops at Sloan’s at 1365 Third Avenue near 78th Street. “Pastry I buy at Bonté Patisserie (1316 Third Avenue near 75th Street), but it’s very expensive. So, dessert must be fruit. Probably bananas and oranges.”

           

          She would prefer spinach loose. “You get better quality and less shrinkage.” But she will make do with Sloan’s spinach in plastic wrap, fourteen ounces for 59 cents. “Look, the broccoli is 79 cents. Yesterday it was 69 cents.” Digging around, she finds broccoli at both prices. “Aha, it pays to look twice.”

 

          There is a sale on aging mushrooms. “It’s a bargain if all you want is mushroom flavor, but no bargain when appearance counts.” Softening bell peppers at half price are deceptive. “You have to throw away too much. With vegetables, it sometimes pays to spend a few pennies more.”

 

          The cheaper juice oranges are fine for her macédoine. She will slice three of them and two bananas, and let them steep overnight in the juice of two oranges and a lemon, with grated lemon peel and just two tablespoons of sugar. Grapes and strawberries would make a lovely contrast, but price knocks them out of the budget.

 

          Marcella is obviously much happier at Fruits ‘n’ Things (1125 Lexington Avenue near 78th Street), where vegetables are displayed as if they were rare porcelains. And she is embarrassed to find glorious loose spinach at only 69 cents a pound and bananas tagged at the same price as Sloan’s. Strawberries here are even less. “Sometimes in trying to save, you get mixed up.”

 

          She is like a fine-art collector among the legumes. “Look at that fava bean. Oh, such a beautiful parsley.” She snaps a string bean. (In my market that would be grounds for exile. Here no one even murmurs protest.)

 

          “Everyone knows you get a good fish at Rosedale,” she says, passing the shop at 1129 Lexington. “But I hate to shop there. Sometimes you want to ask what’s fresh and see what’s good and then decide what you want to make. They don’t have time for that.”

 

          For Italian groceries, Marcella will not compromise. Trentacosta, at 1429 Second Avenue near 74th Street, is closer to home, but she prefers Tarallo’s, a narrow aromatic bazaar at 239 East 59th Street, a 70-cent round-trip bus ride away. “They have the best domestic prosciutto, Volpe,” she explains. “And it’s cheaper than Trentacosta’s, too. And the pancetta [Italian bacon] is better.” The only pasta she will use is de Cecco. “It costs more, but it costs less. It grows more in the cooking. Domestic pasta goes from undercooked to overcooked too quickly. De Cecco doesn’t. You have better control.”

 

          Pressed against the line of workmen ordering sandwiches, Marcella nibbles a sandwich of garlicky salami wrapped around a wedge of fresh Romano cheese, unrefusable gift of the proprietor. She will not compromise. Tomatoes must be imported canned from Italy. And with Parmesan cheese at $4.80 a pound, Romano pecorino only a few pennies less, she is relieved to find she needs only a few ounces. “It would be cheaper to buy it ready-grated,” she muses. “I could do that. But I won’t. I tell my classes ready-grated is as good as wood shavings. I am right.”

 

***

 

Marcella Hazan’s Dinner

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Pork Braised in Milk

Sauteed Spinach

Macerated Oranges and Bananas

 

Pork                                   $3.09

Milk, pt.                                 .22

Butter, ¼ lb.                           .25

Spinach, 14 oz.                      .59

1 lemon                                  .14

5 oranges                               .30

2 bananas                               .13

Pancetta, ¼ lb.                       .86

Parmesan, 2 oz.                     .60

Romano, 1 oz.                       .30

Onion                                    .04

Tomatoes, 1 lb. can               .60

Bucatini, 1 lb.                       .75

Bread                                    .60

Bus, round-trip                     .70

Italian Swiss Colony

      Rhineskeller-

      Moselle, ½ gal.             2.79

 

Total cost:                        $11.96

 

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