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Stretch Your Food Budget With Tips From Chef Lidia Bastianich

From freezing tomatoes to using alternative cuts of meat, the restaurateur learned at a young age how to make food go further

spinner image left a soup with onions leeks and peas right chef lidia bastianich
Lidia Bastianich/Dana Gallagher/Lidia’s kitchen

What’s in Lidia Bastianich’s shopping cart:

100 percent semolina dried pasta, frozen and canned fish, odd cuts of meat and a whole chicken

Renown restaurateur and cookbook author Lidia Bastianich, 76, knows how to save money on food. It’s an instinct that dates back to her youth, when stretching out the family food dollar was critical.

Today the restaurateur and television host, whose latest book is Lidia’s From Our Family Table to Yours, can afford to buy the absolute best ingredients she can find, but she still loves to save by using alternative cuts of meat, always storing leftovers— and growing whatever she can herself.

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Much of her savings come from shopping the internet, where the variety of foods far exceeds what’s available in your local market.

“You can find great meat, great fish — not fresh, but frozen.” She likes flash-frozen, wild-caught halibut, for example, but also buys canned sardines, tuna, anchovies and mackerel. And she searches the internet for less-expensive cuts of meat, like lamb or veal shoulder or even beef knuckles. “You can read up on which cuts of meat are best for which dishes,” she explains.

spinner image chef lidia bastianich standing in a garden holding a basket of fresh vegetables
Lidia Bastianich/Dana Gallagher/Lidia’s kitchen

“When we came here as immigrants, my grandmother bought a lot of chicken necks, wings, even feet,” she says.

Today she’ll buy a whole chicken, remove the breasts, thighs and drumsticks, and then use the rest of the chicken for soup. Into the stock will go parsley stems, the tops of celery stalks and other pieces of plants that many of us just throw away. “Wash them, put them in a little Ziploc bag and freeze them,” she says. “Every part of the plant is usable.”

She even freezes fresh tomatoes, which can then be used for sauce or soup, or grated — still frozen — over a nice burrata or mozzarella with some olive oil. Dried beans, peas and nuts are also a staple; she’ll buy them individually in bulk, then freeze what she doesn’t need to better preserve them.

Recycling leftovers is also important to Bastianich. One of her favorite tricks is turning last night’s dinner into this morning’s breakfast. “Put some pasta Bolognese into a pan with a little oil, reheat it, then mix in some eggs, like a frittata.”

She often bakes bread from scratch but will also pick up “parcooked” breads. “They’re partially cooked. You put them in the oven and finish the cooking, and it’s like freshly baked bread,” she says.

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