TIME Magazine challenged to six of the country’s best chefs to create a gourmet meal for four at a budget of about $10. An article on the challenge featured restaurant owner Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio as he shopped, cooked and served up his dish: Fennel Pork Loin and Pasta Vegetarienne (so named by TIME writer Joel Stein).
For our inaugural 641 Project blog, I decided to prepare Colicchio’s dish, hold a taste testing for the staff, and see if it made or broke the $10 mark.
The recipe that appears on TIME’s website was reconstructed by Stein based on recollection of Colicchio as he created his dish. Stein is not precise with the ingredients, measurements or procedure, and the recipe contains some of his musings; all of which proved to be a stumbling block for me (That’s for another blog).
Preparing the dish was fairly simple, though. My biggest challenge was how to prepare the pork. According to Stein, Colicchio sautéed his pork loin – I believe he probably had a tenderloin – but I had doubts about this method; many cookbooks that I consulted say that roasting is best. So I seared then roasted the meat instead. I took a portable range top to the Library to cook the vegetable and pasta part (The meat was prepared at home). Because of the range size – versus the width of my pots and pans – making the sauce took a bit longer than usual. In total, I spent about an hour and a half preparing the meal. (Stein reported a 30 minute cooking time for Colicchio; then again, he’s a bit more skilled than I am!)
Colicchio's Fennel Pork and Pasta Vegetarienne (as prepared by Yours Truly)
The dish was a success. Despite being cooked the night before and reheated in the microwave, the pork was tender and soaked in a nice flavor from the fennel, garlic and basil marinade. The eggplant, zucchini, onions, fennel and tomato was a delicious flavor combination, nicely accented by fresh basil. The Fennel Pork Loin and Pasta Vegetarienne was more like good home cooking than gourmet; it was a very tasty and satisfying dish.
So did the meal cost $10? Well, it depends on how you look at things. The meal costs $13.66 in total; I actually spent only $9.01 on ingredients, already having the roast, an onion and oil on hand. I managed to stay in the $10 neighborhood by buying the produce at a farmer’s market-like store, where the prices were less than my regular mega-mart, and catching dry goods on sale at the mega-mart: I caught the roast on a two-for-one special there several weeks ago. Five people ate generous portions, with leftovers for one more serving. I also had some uncooked veggies leftover which I used in another dish a short time later. Buying every ingredient may ultimately run between $13 and $15, but some ingredients, like cheese and pasta, can be used for other meals later; and if you have some ingredients on hand, you will spend less on the meal.
Colicchio’s dish slightly exceeds the $10 budget. But the finished meal is a bargain in terms of the number of people it feeds, and it tastes terrific!
I’ll be testing another of TIME’s Recession Gourmet Recipes in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.