I wasn’t nearly as organized then as I am now, so I didn’t always plan ahead as well as I could and take the week’s schedule into consideration when deciding my menus, but this was one recipe I knew I could fall back on if I really ran into a time crunch. It's fast and easy, and very tasty besides.
Of course, in those days, there was no way we could have afforded feta cheese, so that was a later addition to the recipe. The wide availability and choice we now have for such specialty foods is astounding compared to those days. It was truly a different world.
Things were so tight for us back then that my Christmas, birthday, or special occasion gift to my husband was sometimes a package of his beloved Greek olives and cheese. They were a rare treat indeed, and quite an indulgence.
Of course, while the variety and competition have pushed the prices of some specialty foods down to a somewhat more affordable level, they are still pricier than “regular” fare, and the incredible range of new choices now also serves as a temptation to spend more on these gourmet products than our budgets can often afford.
I recommend using these kinds of foods only very sparingly, and ONLY when they’re on sale.
As I’ve written in previous blogs, there are a couple of ways I save money when planning for this recipe or others that use similar ingredients.
For example, I use frozen, chopped spinach because I can get it much cheaper by the pound than the fresh. When it goes on sale, I stock up on it and keep several boxes or bags in my freezer.
As I’ve already mentioned, I buy feta only when it’s on sale. I also usually buy it in brick form, rather than pre-crumbled. That alone can cut $2 or more from the cost of a pound of the cheese. I also use it in small amounts, mostly as a flavor accent, to keep costs down.
And as far as the wine in the recipe goes, I certainly do not use an expensive bottle of pinot grigio in my cooking. Instead, I purchase the cheapest wine I can find and use that. Usually, that’s the boxed version, or the kind that comes in jugs that you can find in most wine stores. I avoid the wine sold as “cooking wine” in most grocery stores. It is laden with salt and pricier than what you can get at a wine store.
And, of course, I buy my canned legumes when they go on sale and stock up on some extra cans when they do. You can also save even more money by using dried legumes and cooking them from scratch. I recommend using a pressure cooker when you do that so you can have them ready in about half an hour, using less electricity and cooking fuel to boot.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes approximately 8 hearty servings
(Freezes very well)
Prep Time – Approx. 20 minutes
Start to Finish Time – Approx. 30 minutes
Total Recipe Cost – Approx. $10.50
Total per person meal cost with tossed salad and garlic bread - Approx. $2.00
3-4 cups whole grain pasta - (the amount will depend on the size of the pasta - smaller ones like elbows will call for the smaller amount, while larger ones like rotelle or ziti will generally call for the bigger amount.)
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
1 package (10-16 ounces) frozen, chopped spinach
2-3 cans of chick peas, 14-16 ounce size
1 29-32 ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons oil
½ cup red wine (optional)
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup feta or Parmesan cheese
Recipe continues after photos.
- Put on water to boil over high heat in a large, covered pot.
- Thaw the frozen spinach in the microwave in a microwavable container or in its microwavable box, and set aside to drain in a colander.
- Peel and dice the onion.
- Peel and chop the 3 cloves of garlic.
- Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in large frying pan or pot over medium heat for about one minute. Add the diced onion to the oil and cook, stirring often, for about 5-7 minutes or until it is becoming translucent. Add the garlic to the onions and cook about 1 minute more, stirring frequently.
- Add the 29-32-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes, the ½ cup of wine, and the ½ teaspoon each of pepper, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, and thyme to the pan. Set the rest of the tomato paste aside.
- Stir everything together and blend well. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium heat, and allow it to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
- Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and set the timer according to the directions on the side of the pasta package, usually 7-12 minutes.
- While the pasta and sauce are cooking, make the garlic bread and your salad.
- Drain the 2-3 cans of chick peas, reserving some of the liquid.
- Crumble the feta by breaking it up with your fingers.
- After the sauce has simmered for about 10-15 minutes, check to see if it is the desired consistency and add some of the reserved chick pea liquid and/or more of the tomato paste, as needed.
- Add the thawed spinach and the chick peas and stir them in gently.
- Cook the sauce for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the spinach and chick peas are heated through. Stir occasionally.
- Gently stir in the feta or Parmesan cheese and remove the sauce from direct heat.
- When the pasta is done to taste, drain it well in a colander in the sink.
- Options for serving: you can add the pasta to the sauce and stir everything carefully together, or you can serve the sauce over individual portions of pasta on plates.
- Serve the meal with a tossed salad and the optional slices of garlic bread.