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5 cheap Italian foods for students on a budget

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5 tips for eating Italian food without spending too much

Tired of having the same old mug food for dinner? I’ve been there, too. Everyone who studied away from home had to learn to eat well without spending too much. And after a while, it turns out that you don’t need a fortune to enjoy good food. So here is my list of 5 cheap Italian foods that you can cook when you’re studying away from home.

During my university years I didn’t have a lot of furniture or kitchen objects available. For this reason I have selected foods that are easy to cook or to find, so that everyone can try them without too much effort. Enjoy!

Caprese salad

Let’s start with the easiest one. To prepare this food, you won’t need an oven, a stove or any other particular item. In fact, you won’t need to cook at all. 

La caprese is a very fresh and healthy salad, originally from the island of Capri. It is perfect in hot seasons, because you don’t need to cook the ingredients, but you can have it all year round as it is a very fast and cheap food, which takes only 1 minute to be ready. 

a nice bowl of caprese salad, a very cheap and easy italian food
A very good looking caprese salad. Image by Dusan Tesanovic

To make a nice caprese salad, you just need 1 or 2 tomatoes, 1 mozzarella ball, a couple of basil leaves and some drops of olive oil. The traditional recipe for Caprese salad requires fiascone tomatoes (or the more famous San Marzano ones) and buffalo mozzarella. However, if you’re on a budget, any tomato with a firm and fleshy pulp and any mozzarella ball will do. 

Here’s a tip if you want to spend less and eat better: grow your own basil in your dorm room. Basil is a very small plant that requires little care and can be used in many meals. Most of the basil leaves sold in stores, however, are usually tasteless. If you grow it in your room, it’ll be much freshier. Whenever you want to spice up your food, you’ll just need to cut 1 or 2 leaves and wash them.

Uova alla contadina

Uova alla contadina (“farmer’s eggs”) is another cheap and simple Italian food, with few ingredients and a short cooking time. Many people bake them in an oven, but not all students can do that. So, this time, I’ll teach you how to make it with just a frying pan. 

Ingredients for 1 person:

  • 2 eggs
  • about 1 cup of tomato preserve (200 gr.)
  • some cheese cubes (not mandatory)
  • 4 tablespoons of oil
  • salt
  • oregano
Prepare the eggs as you would normally do, then add the tomato preserve and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Next, add the oregano and cheese cubes, and you’re ready to go!
 

Fricantò

Fricantò is an economic vegetarian food from my region, Le Marche. Like many other foods from le Marche, people used to make it when they ran short of other supplies, using vegetables that could be easily found in any farmer’s house, and its name changes from town to town. It is also known as frecandò, fregandò, frìcandò, fricchiò and so on. 

It must not be confunded with Fricandò piemontese, which is an omonymous meal made with veal and vegetables. The Fricandò piemontese  owes its name to the French word fricandeau (a piece of browned, larded veal walnut, cooked in sauce). The fricantò from le Marche, instead, probably has its name derived from a funny story about a butcher called Antonio, who lost a cooking contest.

a homemade bowl of Fricantò, a vegetarian and economic italian food
A bowl of homemade fricantò. This veggie italian food is very easy to do and doesn't require much money for its ingredients.

To make fricantò, you just need:

  • a carrot
  • an onion
  • a stick of celery
  • 3 eggplants
  • 1 or 2 potatoes
  • 2 peppers
  • 2 zucchini
  • 3 or 4 red tomatoes
If you like French cuisine, you’ve probably understood where this is going: fricantò is actually our version of the much more famous ratatouille. People from le Marche like to joke about how our dialect sounds and… ah, if only Disney had called its movie Fricantò, the world would be a funnier place.
 

How to make fricantò at home

 
Cut every ingredient into little pieces. Add the onion, the carrot and the celery to a pot with some oil and start heating. When the onion becomes a little golden, add the eggplants. Then, wait for five minutes, and add potatoes. After another 5 minutes, add peppers and zucchini. Then (again) wait for 5 minutes and add the tomatoes with a glass of water. Keep cooking until the vegetables absorb the water, and your fricantò will be ready.

Lasagna

“Wait, what? Doesn’t lasagna need a lot of ingredients and cooking time? How can it be a cheap meal?” 

Well, normal lasagna can be hard and expensive to make. However, during my study years, I found out that a bowl of frozen lasagna can be a yummy and cheap solution for when you’re both hungry and tired. You just need to let it thaw and heat it for some minutes. Let other people do the cooking while you focus on your books, and enjoy a yummy break without worries.

Pasta & Beer Ragù

The traditional ragù bolognese requires many ingredients and expertise. However, there are many simpler variants. If you’re taking a break from study and want to have dinner with your roommates without spending too much, beer ragù could be the perfect food for you as it has a rich taste, a low price and a short cooking time. 

When dined with other students, this was our first choice: it was easy to make and cost us less than 3$ each. Here’s how you can make it. 

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 1 onion, 2 carrots and 2 sticks of celery cut into small pieces
  • 1 lb of minced meat (approx. 450 grams)
  • 3 oz of salami cut into pieces
  • half a can of pale ale
Fry the onion, carrots and celery in a pan for a couple minutes. Then, add the minced meat and salami and wait for them to start changing color. When they do, add the beer and keep cooking. In the meantime, use another pot to cook some pasta. You can let the ragù work as long as you want: the original ragù must be cooked for at least 2 hours but, in this case, it is enough to wait until the meat is ready and has absorbed all the beer. It will be a matter of minutes. When the pasta is ready, put it in a bowl and pour the beer ragù over it. Dinner is served.
 
I hope this article was useful to you. See you next week for new tips and recipes. 
 
 

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