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Recipe for a healthy, low-cost dinner

Ligaya Figueras
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nutritious eating on a dime is the premise of Melanie Lionello’s recently published cookbook, “Frugal Mediterranean Cooking: Easy, Affordable Recipes for Lifelong Health” (Page Street Publishing Co., $21.99).

Saving money while still serving a wholesome meal to the family is certainly on the minds of Americans who are looking to stay healthy during the pandemic yet need to pinch pennies due to the economic crisis.

Lionello’s recipe for piselli, peas braised in an aromatic tomato sauce, fits the bill. Passed down to her by her Italian grandmother, the dish calls for a modicum of ingredients, all readily available at the grocery store, that Lionello calculates to cost $0.91 per serving.

Ripe for these crazy pandemic times, the cooking method couldn’t be easier. Just saute the onion, garlic and pancetta, add a can of crushed tomatoes, a healthy glug of wine and a bag and a half of frozen peas (a 12-ounce bag equates to 2¼ cups, so purchase two bags on your next shopping run), then let it simmer away for an hour while you get back to the next Zoom meeting or oversee squirmy youngsters learning remotely.

It doesn’t take much effort to turn this side dish into a main, either.

Ladle it over cooked lentils or another legume of your choosing, pour the textured mixture over pasta with nice nooks and crannies, or add it atop a bowl of hot brown rice.

It may seem like jarring events that characterized 2020 have followed us into the new year, but dinner doesn’t have to be one of them.

Piselli (braised peas in tomato) from “Frugal Mediterranean Cooking” by Melanie Lionello.

Piselli

  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces pancetta, diced (about 1 thick slice) (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 33/4 cups frozen baby peas
  • Parsley, to garnish

In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over low heat, then add the pancetta (if using), garlic and onion. Saute until the onion is soft and the pancetta is brown.

Add the crushed tomatoes, wine, salt and pepper and cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Add the peas and stir to combine. Place a lid on the saucepan and simmer on low for at least 1 to 2 hours. You will know it’s done when the peas are soft and a dull green color, and the sauce will be really quite thick. Stir occasionally and adjust the seasoning as needed to taste. Serve alone or as a sauce over al dente pasta garnished with parsley, if desired.

Serves 4.

Nutritional information: per serving, without pancetta, 258 calories (42% calories from fat), 9 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 8 g fiber, 12 g total fat (2 g saturated), no cholesterol, 563 mg sodium.

Reprinted with permission from “Frugal Mediterranean Cooking” by Melanie Lionello, Page Street Publishing Co., 2020.