How to Eat Gourmet on a College Student’s Budget

Published by Monday, March 14, 2011 Permalink 0
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by Jonell Galloway

When I was in college in the U.S. and France in the 70s and 80s, my kitchen was about the size of an American half-bath. I was already well on my way to gourmet snobbery, but since I couldn’t afford to eat in gourmet restaurants every night, I was forced to find novel ways to satisfy my taste buds.

Photo courtesy of Carlos Porto.

When I traveled, I was totally without shame. I went to the best French restaurants with my friends and brazenly ordered an assortment of dishes, which we proceeded to share. We would ask for extra eating utensils and split a dozen snails or a soufflé among three, or share a glass of expensive Bordeaux. Amazingly, the French waiters never once ran us out of the restaurant.

Where there is a will there is a way to eat gourmet every day, as the cliché goes. At home, I stocked up on pasta, and once a week I would go to the farmers market and load up on fresh vegetables and make a variation of Bolognese, which was about the only Italian sauce popular at the time.

But my Bolognese took a different twist every day and every week, depending on the vegetables in season and the meat on sale. Sometimes I used ground pork and beef; sometimes bacon. In the winter, I used more root vegetables; in the spring, peas. As commonplace as that may seem today, my friends were always in awe of my culinary skills, so that just encouraged me.

Today’s gourmet college student is not limited to Bolognese and has a wider choice of vegetables. There are a million things you can do with a package of pasta.

Start by stocking up. Pasta, olive oil, tomato paste and sauce, onions, garlic, Parmesan, Balsamic vinegar and a mixture of dried Italian herbs should always be plentiful in your larder.

If there’s a farmers market near you, make it a weekly pilgrimage. Buy seasonal, local vegetables and herbs if possible. They will taste better and contain more nutrients. If you see tomatoes and eggplants in December, turn the other way, no matter how tempting they may seem.

The first night after shopping, sauté a large batch of vegetables with garlic, onion and Italian herbs in olive oil, mix them with pasta and then sprinkle them with Parmesan. The second night, use the same vegetables, liven them up with a few drops of Balsamic vinegar, and serve them cold as a salad. The next day, add the tomato sauce and then a different vegetable every day, simmering it each time.  The last day, use it to make lasagne.

You can actually make a sauce that will last all week, varying it every night by adding different vegetables (or meat or beans) every day. The sauce will become better with time, rather like the “eternal pot” of the French, where they added different meats and vegetables every day to the same cauldron.

And you will have eaten gourmet every day of the week!

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  • Tania
    March 31, 2011

    The students at Harvard University recently published a cookbook on how to make gourmet meals with things readily available in the dining hall. You might check it out- pretty creative.