This is an easy, delicious and hearty meal, which also happens to be naturally budget-friendly! Incredibly adaptable, this vegetarian dish is a winner for any family.
I first started making this back when I lived at college as a 20-year-old with a small grocery budget. It was also a favourite when my husband and I were living on the North Shore in Sydney as a new couple, trying to make ends meet while paying for that gorgeous harbour view! Today, it is still a meal I turn to, for a number of reasons. Yes, it is extremely budget-friendly. This meal only needs some basic staples – pasta, tomato paste and tinned tomatoes, along with some herbs and spices. The rest is entirely dependent on what is left at the bottom of your fridge! I love that this meal encourages a lack of waste and takes advantage of an abundance of vegetables and flavours, thereby creating something truly satisfying. A sprinkling of cheese tops this dish off to bring it to ‘comfort food’ level and also makes it incredibly appealing to children (because – cheese!). I also love this meal because it is such an obvious and easy choice when trying to come up with a vegetarian option. I like to balance the weeks meals with red meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian dishes, so this is such a simple way of having a meat-free night…..and so delicious, even the biggest carnivores won’t miss their meat!
Finally, this meal is fantastic cold, so leftovers are a perfect school/office lunch!
The ingredients (which can be switched for other vegetables/flavours) are basically this (serves 10):
2 large packets pasta (I tend to use penne, though it absolutely doesn’t matter)
2 large onions
garlic gloves, or jar garlic (to taste)
6 medium carrots, diced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
1-2 large red bell pepper/capsicum, diced
Any other vegetables you have handy (mushroom, zucchini, baby spinach, etc)
can corn kernals (optional)
large jar tomato paste
2 tins diced tomatoes
Italian herbs (mix or of your choice)
2 Ts bbq sauce
4Ts sweet chilli sauce (bbq and sweet chilli sauce add a fun, sweet kick and aid in the budget-friendly nature of this dish – i.e, uni students tend to have these condiments at hand)
salt and pepper, to taste
1Ts Dijon mustard (you know I put it in everything)
garlic powder, to taste (optional)
red wine vinegar, 1Ts
Worcestershire sauce, 1Ts (optional)
soy sauce, 1Ts (optional)
olive oil – a good swoosh
grated cheese of your choice
Fry up onion and garlic in the olive oil, and add vegetables, one at a time, in order of density (carrots take the longest time to cook, so pop them in first).
Add tomato paste and tinned tomatoes, followed by herbs, spices and sauces.
Stir and add lid. Simmer for around ten minutes while your pasta cooks.
Stir sauce through drained pasta and dish up, sprinkling grated cheese on top.