Having friends and family over for dinner doesn't have to break the bank. Here, recipes for crowd-pleasing—and affordable—dishes, from baked pasta to short rib stew.
Food & Wine
September 22, 2014
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Meat Loaf with Creamy Onion Gravy
"This is a culmination of all the meat loaves I've ever eaten," says chef Andrew Curren. "My mom always made a good meat loaf—it never had the tomato goo on top of it. Then I tasted a meat loaf that had cheese in it; that was a good idea. In Italy, I was introduced to soffritto and realized the importance of cooking with carrots, onion, celery." Curren serves the meat loaf with creamy gravy, which is also excellent on lunchtime meat loaf sandwiches.
This eggplant Parmesan — a low-cost vegetarian dish — is all it should be: delicate slices of fried eggplant nestled in a bright, tangy tomato sauce, layered with gooey fresh mozzarella. The best part is the exceptionally crisp topping, made with dry bread crumbs.
When chef Ethan Stowell was growing up, his father was the family cook; beef stew was one of his specialties. Unlike his dad, who favored rump roast, Stowell uses short ribs, an affordable, marbled cut that turns fabulously succulent and tender when slow-simmered.
Here, chef Ethan Stowell prepares a pork sugo, or rich gravy, by braising pork shoulder until it almost falls apart, shredding it in a food processor and mixing it with a red-wine-and-tomato sauce. He then bakes it with orecchiette under a topping of Parmigiano cheese until crispy. The dish is an excellent alternative to the usual baked pasta, because it's not as heavy and cheesy but still delicious and satisfying.
This homey chicken dish uses low-cost but flavorful chicken thighs and is loaded with soft, sweet roasted peppers and onions. To punch up the flavor, add plump, meaty green olives, like Italian Castelvetrano or Cerignola. Serve the stew with crusty bread to sop up all of the juices.
Cooks in Italy fry cauliflower to bring out its nuttiness. Here, chef Ethan Stowell deep-fries it for an inexpensive salad with salty prosciutto (you could also use ham) and nubby farro, a variety of whole-grain wheat that's both flavorful and filling.
This classic Provençal recipe calls for clams, lobster and fish in a broth delicately flavored with fennel and pastis, a licorice-flavored aperitif, but you can trim the cost of ingredients by making smart substitutions. "There are no real rules to this dish, except to use what’s fresh," chef Ethan Stowell says. Make or buy a good fish stock and add different seafood at different times, so nothing is under- or overcooked (shellfish go in first; fish go in last). The rouille, a sauce made with cayenne, garlic, bread crumbs and olive oil, is the perfect finishing touch.
The trick to this lower-cost dish is in the seasonings, which transform the lamb into a complexly flavored stew. The dish is vibrantly flavored with ginger, cumin, coriander, olives and lemon; the broth is delicious over couscous. When making most stews, cooks typically brown the meat before braising it; here, chef Ethan Stowell skips that step, which simplifies the Moroccan recipe and gives the lamb a buttery, melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Mexican posole is typically a cheap, thick, hearty soup made with hominy (chewy dried corn kernels with the hull and germ removed). For his version, chef Ethan Stowell slow-simmers chunks of pork butt in water with onion and garlic to create a dish that's appealingly brothy. The array of fun, flavorful condiments—jalapeño, onion, cilantro and lime wedges—is key to the dish.
Cooks in Asia serve hot pots communally, setting a big pot of bubbling broth on the table alongside a platter of raw ingredients (like vegetables and thinly sliced chicken) for dipping. It's a fun way for guests to feel like they have a hand in making their own meal, and it's inexpensive, too. In this version, each person at the table can have an individual bowl of sliced mushrooms, tofu and scallions, then adds piping hot chicken broth loaded with chunks of tender cooked chicken.
Chef Ethan Stowell sticks to Italian tradition when making osso buco, braising low-cost veal shanks and then topping them with a citrusy gremolata (orange and lemon zest mixed with garlic and parsley). He advises spooning out and eating all of the marrow from the bones for what he calls "a mouthful of fatty goodness."