Sunday, December 21, 2008

¿Risotto in a Box?

My mother-in-law came to visit last weekend and as always came bearing bags of groceries, for which I am not ungrateful given my rather straitened means. It wasn't until today that I noticed one of her gifts, a box of "Italian Herb Risotto" sitting on the counter. You may already understand why she comes bearing gifts: there are no preprepared foods at my house. To the uninitiated—such as my children—it appears as though we have nothing to eat. I have learned that the verb "eat" now encompasses a complex idea that runs rather breathlessly something like "find something preprepared and throw it in a microwave and bolt it down so that I can get on to the rest of my life."

I have always been and I will always be a scratch cook and cooking has never been a bother or chore: it is something that I take pleasure in. I had nearly the same reaction to seeing that box on my counter as I imagine that I might have had if I had seen a miniature Martian sitting there, such is the scarcity of such things as risotto in a box at my house.

I cook risotto from scratch almost daily at the restaurant and don't find it particularly laborious, so curious about how the rest of the world lives, I flipped the box over and read the ingredients. Here's what I would put in an herb risotto: olive oil, yellow onion, Arborio rice, white wine, water or stock, salt, pepper, herbs, garlic, butter, and pecorino cheese.

And here's what is in the box that would never touch my risotto, ever: rice flour, onion powder, garlic powder, cane juice powder (fancy name for sugar, don't you think?), dehydrated tomato, buttermilk powder, whey powder, turmeric, and safflower oil.

Reading all this junk was enough to turn me off, but I then went seeking the preparation instructions, figuring that the boxed risotto had to offer some convenience, such as a significantly shorter cooking time. But no, you still have to cook it for 20 minutes just like scratch risotto. Who's zooming who? This is not convenience food; this is just junk marketed to people who think they cannot cook risotto. Folks, if you can cook what's in this box, you can make risotto from scratch with almost no additional effort. And I guarantee that what you make will be an order of magnitude better tasting than the junk in the box.

I apologize again for the recent paucity of posts. Most of my free time is devoted to the rearchitecture of the restaurant web site. It comes along nicely: the prototype is complete and tested with the major browsers. I'm looking forward to launching it around the first of the year.


  1. You inspired me to make some risotto tonight.

    Since we are snowed in due to a blizzard, I used what was on hand: spot prawns, onions, clarified butter, garlic, paprika, saffron, salt, some homemade veggie stock, no cheese and a little love...

    Cross your fingers for me...just deglazed with wine and added the first ladle-full of stock...hope this turns out well!

  2. Sounds like awesome blizzard food! Don't you just love that little sword that the spot prawn hides in his tail, just to shred your fingers when you peel it?

  3. It turned out killer...kind of like risotto meets paella. Yeah, those little buggers have some serious armor.

  4. I often make risotto in the style of paella: adding piquillo peppers, chorizo, pimentó, saffron, garlic, etc. to my risotto base. In this case, I generally use a shrimp stock and omit the butter and cheese. Risotto is so versatile.