Budget-friendly dishes from chef Kathy Gunst – who says rising food prices don’t mean the taste is waning – Advice Eating

Food prices go up. Recent reports show that food costs are at least 8% higher than this time last year – and are expected to rise further as the year progresses. The reasons? Let me count the paths: Wheat and corn prices are skyrocketing due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Both countries are producers of much of the world’s wheat, as well as vegetable and sunflower oils. The pandemic, supply chain issues, and the ongoing drought across California have also contributed to rising prices. And then there’s an outbreak of bird flu, which has sent egg prices skyrocketing.

Despite all the reasons for despair, there are plenty of ways to eat well without breaking the bank. These three dishes—which feature influences from Spain, France, and an American classic—won’t make you feel like you’re sacrificing good taste to cut your grocery bills.

The first dish is my very simplified take on a French cassoulet, a bean and sausage dish. Here I use canned kidney beans, Italian sausage, herbs and breadcrumbs for a quick, filling meal. The second recipe is for a Spanish tortilla made with eggs, potatoes and onions. Three humble ingredients that morph into something greater than the sum of its parts. And the third dish is a new take on the classic American comfort food mac and cheese. In this version, crispy sautéed broccoli is mixed into the pasta and cheese sauce and the dish is topped with toasted walnuts.

Sausage and white beans with a crispy breadcrumbs and herb topping

This is my oversimplified version of the French dish cassoulet. Canned white beans are sautéed with onions and thyme, then topped with sausage (I used Italian sweet and spicy, but you can use any variety). The beans and sausage are then topped with breadcrumbs and more herbs and placed under the grill until crisp and golden brown. The recipe can easily be doubled for a larger family or gathering.

For 2 to 3 servings


  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme or 1 ½ tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 3 large sausages (I used sweet and spicy Italian), about 1 pound, each sausage cut in half
  • One 15.5 ounce can of white cannellini beans, drained, rinsed in cold water and drained again
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ cups chicken broth, beef broth, or vegetable broth
  • ½ cup panko (coarse breadcrumbs) or breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small cubes, optional


  1. In a large (about 10 ½ inch) ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over very low heat. Add the onions, salt, pepper and half the thyme and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and add the sausages; Fry until lightly browned, about 6 minutes or 3 minutes per side. Add the beans and stir them into the onions and add half the parsley; Boil 1 minute. Increase the heat to high, add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 10 minutes.
  2. Preheat grill.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs and remaining thyme and parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Place the seasoned breadcrumbs on the sausages and beans and press down lightly. Top with the butter if using. Place under a hot grill for about 2 to 5 minutes, or until the entire dish is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Serve hot.

Spanish potato and onion tortilla

Spanish potato and onion tortilla. (Kathy Gunst)

A Spanish tortilla is not like a Mexican tortilla. Here it refers to an egg dish. How can three humble ingredients – potatoes, eggs and onions – turn into something so delicious? This Spanish classic is like a cross between a potato and egg frittata and a ‘pie’.

In Spain, a potato tortilla is traditionally served as a tapas with small glasses of sherry or local wine. The tortilla can be served for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner with a small green salad and crusty, warm bread.

If you think this dish doesn’t sound exciting, watch Penelope Cruz make a potato tortilla in the brilliant new Pedro Almodóvar film, Parallel Mothers.

For 4 to 6 people


  • 1 ½ pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼ to ½ inch slices (½ inch is a little thick)
  • 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • 7 eggs


  1. Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce and cook about 8 to 10 minutes, or until potatoes are just tender when tested with a small, sharp knife. Drain under cold running water; drain again.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large, ovenproof skillet, about 10 ½ inches, heat 1 tablespoon oil over low heat. Add the onions, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the onions are soft and golden. Take off the heat.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs vigorously with salt and pepper. Carefully add the potatoes and onions and mix, being careful not to break the potatoes. The trick here is to let the eggs soak up the potatoes and onions for about 15 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  5. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the egg and potato mixture and cook for 1 minute. Place on the middle shelf of the preheated oven and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until eggs are fully set and potatoes are tender. Remove from the stove and let cool for 5 minutes. Use a flat kitchen knife to work your way around the edges of the pan to loosen the eggs and potatoes. Place a plate on top and gently turn the egg/potato onto the plate. Serve warm or sliced ​​at room temperature.

Broccoli and walnut mac and cheese

Broccoli and walnut mac and cheese.  (Kathy Gunst)
Broccoli and walnut mac and cheese. (Kathy Gunst)

In this twist on the comfort food classic, broccoli plays the leading role alongside macaroni and a basic cheese sauce. With almost equal proportions of pasta and broccoli, this budget-conscious meal is green and “good” for you. A simple cheese sauce is made and layered over penne or elbow macaroni, then crispy bits of sautéed broccoli are mixed in and the whole casserole is topped with toasted chopped walnuts.

Avoid buying broccoli crowns, which tend to be more expensive; Look for whole broccoli so you can cook the stalk as well.

Served 4


  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter
  • 1 ½ tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups of milk
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons grated cheddar or your favorite cheese
  • 1 pound broccoli, ends of stalks trimmed and then florets separated into small pieces and stalk cut into small pieces*
  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • ½ pound penne or elbow macaroni

*Blossoms are the small “tree-shaped” top part of the broccoli. If they are large, cut them into smaller ½ inch pieces.


  1. For the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Toast the walnuts: Place the nuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until you can smell the nuts and they are just beginning to turn a richer brown. Remove and finely chop until almost finely chopped; put aside.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the cheese sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat the butter until sizzling over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, stirring, and cook until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ½ cup of shredded cheese, reserving the remaining 2 tablespoons.
  4. Prepare the broccoli: In a large skillet, bring 2 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli florets and stalk pieces and cook 4 to 5 minutes or until almost tender but still slightly cooked. Drain under cold running water and drain again. Place the same pan over high heat, add the oil, then the garlic and cook, stirring, for 10 seconds. Add the broccoli and cook, about 5 to 7 minutes, or until the broccoli is blistering and starting to brown.
  5. Cook the noodles according to the package leaflet for about 11 minutes or until al dente. The noodles should not be very tender; drain.
  6. In a large (about 14-inch) gratin dish or shallow casserole dish, mix the pasta with the cheese sauce. Stir in the broccoli and garlic from the bottom of the pan. (The dish can be made several hours in advance at this point. Cover and refrigerate.)
  7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Top the mac and cheese with the walnuts and the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese. Bake on the middle shelf for about 20 minutes or until the cheese and sauce are bubbly. Serve hot.

More budget-conscious ideas:

One of the best ways to save money in the kitchen is to make the most of your leftovers and plan out multiple meals.

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