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Cheapskate Gourmet: All-You-Can-Drink Salad Dressing

Diablo's new food blog gives tips on how to eat well, on the cheap.


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You probably don’t want to be told you’re just like your mom. Especially not in a tone. You know that tone.

Now I’ve been known to reach for a bottle of Dom Perignon just because, and I’ll pay anything for local, organic fruits and vegetables, or for the freshest, best fish to make a winter cioppino.

But mostly when I’m buying food, I’m comparing prices, and I want to know what I’m getting. If purchasing a bottle of aged balsamic means we might have to sell the cat (I don’t think he’d bring much; he’s missing a tooth and has bald patches), then I freaking want to know why.

Which is why I’m like my mom. Sort of. Do not start getting that tone.

Now there’s a woman who likes a bargain. I once watched her run into the middle of the road in front of our house so she could get a pumpkin that had been smashed there. Yum, freebie pumpkin pie, with the satisfying flavor of not having had to pay for it!

This kind of foraging would have been great if we’d lived on the frontier. In the small New England town where I grew up, I prayed hard no one would see her.

Just the same, I recently did a dance when I discovered that a balsamic available in most supermarkets, Monari Federzoni Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, does the trick for most dishes. You may not want carefully drizzled drops of it to mingle with the juices of your perfectly seared medium-rare Porterhouse, but if you’re looking to marinate some Portabellos, you’re good to go. I hate that expression, “good to go.” That and “think outside the box.” Anyone who uses that expression has never been out of the box. Eh-ver. Sorry.

So anyhow, if you’ve got your Monari Federzoni in hand, you might be thinking balsamic vinaigrette. You’re going to want some decent extra virgin olive oil, and for that there’s a low-priced beauty at Trader Joe’s called Sicilian Selezione. It’s actually called Trader Giotto’s Sicilian Selezione, but we don’t have to get into the whole TJ’s multiethnic imaginary playmates thing, right? Anyhow, this oil is interesting. It’s peppery and even bitter, which is not a bad thing in an olive oil. Actually, the flavors play nicely in a salad dressing.

I tried the TJ’s Extra Virgin California Estate Olive Oil just to give California a chance here, but it didn’t make the cut. Why? Uh, no flavor— or so little that I’d figure this oil would only be good for cooking. Except that it’s too expensive to cook with; for that, be a real cheapskate and grab the Santini Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the big bottle, available at TJ’s and most supermarkets.

Okay, so here’s the party part:

Throw half a cup of your low-end balsamic in a bowl, add a cup of the bargain-brand Sicilian Selezione, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, some sea salt, and some fresh-ground pepper. Whisk, and pour sparingly over some organic greens (greens are in peak season right now and should be heaven). Toss to make sure all your greens get the treatment. Add only enough dressing to cover the greens—that’s key.

After you’re done enjoying your salad and thanking me for all my help, put the rest of your salad dressing in a bottle or container you can store in a cupboard. I realize you’re thinking that this advice comes from someone who grew up in a household where pumpkin roadkill was eaten. But, believe me, the vinaigrette shouldn’t be refrigerated.

That’s all for now. I’m going to go fire up my shopping cart now and see what else I can find out there for us to eat.