Editor’s Note: Please check out the many ground beef recipes all rounded up for you here, since I wrote this many years ago.
Yesterday, I stumbled upon a video of a 91-year old Italian-American grandmother, cooking pasta and peas just the way her mother cooked them nearly every night for her family during the depression.
She used an onion, a potato, and a can of peas,…. all items that didn’t need refrigeration and cost mere pennies.
This took me back to a year ago when I attended a pot luck at the Italian Club in Nashville. Someone had brought this dish that I couldn’t stop eating.
It was a sauté of ground beef, peas, onions, and olive oil. Out of all the things I could have treated myself to, this dish took my plate back for three helpings.
I am not hear to talk about socio-economic times, discuss politics or to depress you. I’m not a complainer, but I am a dreamy realist. And, I see the world through food.
Can I be brutally honest with you? While I count my blessings every day to have a warm bed and good food to eat, I am in sticker shock every time I go to the grocery store. I shop daily because it’s convenient for me. I can walk to my local Publix and I make myself walk almost daily to the Whole Foods (3.5 miles one way). I try to choose grass fed beef which is healthier, but let’s face it, at $8 a pound, sometimes I choose something else.
As a food blogger, I probably do cook in my kitchen more than most and am acutely aware of how the prices have gone up. I’m also aware of how diseases related to fast food are on the rise, and how families no longer sit at the table the way they probably did for that Italian grandmother.
If we need to adjust our budget (and we do), my first concern is my food budget. What do I need to sacrifice?
That’s why I have easy, healthy, real food choices, that are fast, and practically brainless.
The grandmother in the video made me think of my grandmother, who lived through the depression, but was like me, in that she liked good food good. And, she knew how to make a five minute meal taste like a new culinary invention.
Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She would be 105 years old. She would still be cooking the exact same way…healthy, flavorful, uniquely fast, perhaps influenced a bit by the depression. Don’t try to picture the little Italian grandmother standing at the stove for hours cooking for her family.
My grandmother owned her own beauty salon, and cooked exactly once a week on Sunday night, only after all her clothes and sheets were pressed, and her newspapers were read. She was a rare beauty that never stepped foot in town in a “uniform.” She was a fashionista, donning heels, hat and gloves and threw her curvy body on a bus every day to get to down town, making a scene as if the paparazzi were following her.
Her allure and charm weren’t cut out from her Sunday night quick fires. Everything she made was authentic, such as spinach fritters, chicken and olives, or crabs and spaghetti, but it was fast, quick, earthy and a bit sexy, always hitting the senses with a surprise.
Italian ground beef with peas and onions is just exactly the kind of dish she might set before me.
There would be lecture that “americanos” pronounced “ameriganos” don’t know how to eat. I look at their skin and I can smell their hair and know the garbage they are eating. But, you my Angela (pronounced Ahngela) have a grandmother that knows about food. Just look at me and you can see that I eat right.” Yes, she said that.
Since her day, the American diet has changed in that on one hand it has gotten worse, and on the other hand it has gotten much better. There are two different kinds of kitchens cooking (or microwaving) in America today. I’m grateful my grandmother Rose Dee (mother of Retro Rose) pointed me in her direction and never owned a microwave.
Ground beef with peas and onions may not exactly be a “depression” dish, but perhaps a bit reminiscent of the peas and pasta dish that blanketed many Italian Americans during the true depression era and even my grandmother’s table.
A sauté of peas and onions is very Italian. You must use olive oil for the right flavor and a good course salt and freshly cracked pepper. Simplicity always requires great ingredients. Peas and onions are good alone, or combined with rice or with potatoes, but with ground beef, it’s dinner.
I will not tell you to mix three kinds of ground meat together to make it more “foodie” or to pretend this is restaurant fare. It’s not. It’s meant to be Sunday night home cooking.
You can use whatever ground meat you desire, even ground lamb would be quite tasty, but this is just ground beef and not extra lean. You want good (I mean animal-treated right) good, ground beef that has some fat in it, because that is where the taste is.
Since this post of many years ago, I’ve made lots of ground beef dishes. You can go over there and check them out.
I would eat this any time, though because it’s just good food and so would you. Don’t you dare call it hamburger helper or ground beef casserole or I will come and put tape over your mouth and eat this in front of you. It’s rustic, but that doesn’t mean it’s a compromise.
It’s good food, in fact, it’s delicious food that will stretch your budget and your view of ground beef and what fast and affordable can be. Just serve with a nice loaf of crusty bread to sop up the juices, and don’t forget that glass of red wine.
Recession Delicious - Italian Ground Beef, Peas and Onions
- 1 large white onion diced
- 1 pound ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper
- 1 - 2 cups frozen peas
- olive oil
- 1 teaspoon butter
- red chile flakes
- freshly grated parmesan or pecorino optional
- fresh herbs mint, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme...they all work
- Heat olive oil and butter. Add onions, saute until soft.
- Add ground beef that has already been flavored with salt and pepper. Cook until medium rare.
- Add in frozen peas, right at end and allow them to defrost and heat up, while the meat is on its way to medium-well done. Toss in fresh herbs, red chile flakes. Season to taste.
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