What’s the least expensive meal I can serve at a dinner party?

Each week, Brokelyn.com’s in-house etiquette expert, Dear Penny, tackles your recession-related stumpers.

Make the Roman dish “Cacio y Pepe,” a classic in la cucina povera (often defined as “simple food using few ingredients”)—in other words, rustic Italian food. I once had a drummer from Rome staying with me (long story), and he made this a few times—said it was his grandmother’s recipe. In this case the ingredients are: the pasta of your choice (try Trader Joe’s spaghetti for 99 cents; New York Magazine’s tasters liked it) a few tablespoons of pecorino cheese and fresh ground pepper (even McCormick’s should work in a pinch.) Cook pasta, then drain, but save a little of the water. Mix in the cheese and a lot of pepper, drizzle a little of the pasta water in to make everything stick—and you’re done. The trick is to use the pasta water, not oil; it makes the dish summery and light. Garnish with a little something green (Mario Batali likes arugula) and serve with a side of decent tomatoes drizzled in a little olive oil.
My second suggestion isn’t for everyone, but if your friends are culinary adventurers, try something Eastern European-ish: beef tongue. I grew up on tongue; my mother made it all the time. It’s actually really good. It’s also cheap—$5.49/lb at W. Nassau Meat Market in Greenpoint (915 Manhattan Ave. at Greenpoint). Serve chilled, with peppered Polish vodka.

Dear Penny has spent years navigating the social waters of income disparity and doing odd jobs to support her comic-and-novel-writing habit. A former copywriter for Comedy Central, she teaches writing at Queensborough Community College. Send questions to DearPenny@Brokelyn.com.