Tax Day Special: Cheapest Meal Possible


Today is tax day, so in honor of feeling poor and our sad, sad economy, I decided to see exactly how cheaply I could make a meal that actually tastes good and is also nutritious. Store-brand mac and cheese (probably the actual cheapest meal available) is out, since it is neither tasty nor nutritious.

At my local Associated grocery store, I bought:

2 pounds baking potatoes: $1 (on sale)
thyme: $1
1 head garlic: .40
2 large onions: 1.04
1 pound dried cannellini beans .89

Total: $4.33

With these ingredients (plus salt, pepper and oil), I came up with a low-rent, more filling version of pommes anna, the buttery, crispy sliced potato cake from France. Each serving of this dish costs about 1.10. If you’re feeling flush, you could add layers of bacon or cheese.

Potato Cake with Caramelized Onions and Cannellini Beans: Recipe after the jump!

Potato Cake with Caramelized Onions and Cannellini Beans
Yield: about 4 servings

1/2 pound dried cannellini beans
8 springs thyme, divided
5 tablespoons oil, divided
2 large onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
salt and pepper
8 medium baking potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), sliced thin

Put the beans in a pot with 4 cups warm water and 2 thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil, cover pot, remove from heat and set aside to soak for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, caramelize the onions: In a saute pan, warm 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until onions are limp. Turn heat to low, and let onions cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized, about 45 minutes. Chop the remaining thyme and stir it into the onions.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drain the beans and add them to the caramelized onion mixture. Remove from heat.

Spread 1 tablespoon of oil in the bottom of an oven-proof, straight-sided saute pan. Line the bottom of the pan with potato slices, in an overlapping pattern to create an even layer. Season potato layer with salt and pepper, and drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over. Take half the onion-bean mixture, and spread it over the potatoes. Arrange a second layer of potatoes over the onion-bean layer, season it with salt and pepper and drizzle it with 1 tablespoon oil. Spread the remaining onion-bean mixture on top in an even layer. Arrange a last layer of potatoes on top, and season with salt and pepper.

Lightly oil a piece of foil with the remaining oil, and place the foil oil-side down on top of the potato cake. Press down gently. Bake for 30 minutes, remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

Let cool for about 10 minutes, then run a knife along the edges of the pan, and invert it over a plate. Tap on the top of the pan. It should come out like a cake, but if it doesn’t hold together, it’s just as delicious in a pile.