My father once watched some cooking show and learned about risotto. He felt it was a perfect “make-shift” food for a kitchen full of two working parents and four children, and he started making it, day and night. We all called it “rizoolo” in derision, although we kept on eating it. As make-shift family meals go, it was fairly horrible.
As I have documented elsewhere, my father considered recipes as inspirations and challenges, not as hard and fast rules. Thus, basmati rice was considered a perfectly acceptable substitute for that special Italian arborio rice, or whatever its called. Never mind that it doesn’t soak moisture and doesn’t become fat and puffy, rather remaining lean, long and hard if not cooked properly. Never mind that we have no Italian sausages, “Andre” or Mikailian”- my father’s favourite brands of the great Armenian-Iranian sausage factories- would do perfectly well instead. So will unidentifiable bits of chicken. Unfried chopped onions and tomato paste. I can see my father now, standing at the over, stirring all these ingredients together enthusiastically with a dreadful old wooden spoon, beaming through his moustache -“You’re in luck! We have risotto tonight! It will be ready in five minutes!” The family would groan secretly, but eat and praise dutifully. Such are the bonds of filial love.
I remember an Italian colleague in Tehran, bragging about the perfect risottos he made with authentic ingredients sourced from Tehran black markets. “Don’t eat it” another Iranian colleague whispered to me. “It’s like uncooked rice in broth- like shefteh (our derogatory term for a slapdash mixture of cooked and uncooked grains) which stinks of mushrooms.”
A few weeks back I was in Ottawa, treated to a fancy dinner in a fancy restaurant. At one point, through a haze of free wine, I saw the server plop down a white object in front of me. It is hard to describe- imagine a small bowl with a very wide rim. Or a large flat disc of china, with a kind of small hollow right in the middle. The small hollow was filled with a creamy white stuff they assured us was genuine risotto. We found the white china object hilarious, and screamed drunk laughter at it. I can’t really remember what the white stuff tasted like.
Last Saturday, I stirred and stirred a simmering saucepan full of prepared risotto mixture for 10 minutes. “Enjoy delicious real risotto with none of the effort and long preparation!” claimed the print on the cardboard. The princess and I enjoyed it indeed, a smooth, comfortable-tasting, non-aggressive meal. Very different from my father’s random creations.
Maybe I’ll take him a few boxes of prepared dry risotto next time I visit Iran.