I don't often prepare carb-heavy meals for dinner. Most nights, I'm happy with a giant salad and some simply roasted fish or chicken. But in the late fall when the temperature drops, I start craving things like pasta, mashed potatoes, heaping bowls of couscous, and above all else, risotto.
Stonewall Kitchen's Butternut Squash Risotto Mix ($7.95) promises "perfectly cooked risotto" and "the wonderful taste of butternut squash and maple syrup," but I was skeptical. The box contained only carnaroli rice and a spice packet. I still had to add olive oil, butter, chicken stock, and "optional" white wine and Parmesan cheese.
Preparing the mix was no faster or easier than preparing risotto from scratch—I still had to stand at the stove stirring the pot for the better part of an hour. If the mix didn't simplify or shorten the risotto-making process, what exactly did it offer? The only way to evaluate it was on flavor.
I'll start with the good. I found the instructions for this mix to be spot-on. My risotto needed exactly four cups of hot chicken stock to achieve that thick and creamy yet still kind of soupy consistency. The carnaroli rice was obviously of high quality, and it retained a pleasing, nutty bite. The mix was also well seasoned—I found that I didn't need to make any adjustments with salt and pepper.
Unfortunately, my praise ends there. I found the flavor of this mix to be palatable at best. The risotto was a little bit sweet, but other than that I couldn't taste the butternut squash or maple syrup at all. Instead, it tasted overwhelmingly of dried (and frankly, kind of dusty) herbs. More than anything, it reminded me of powdered soup mix. Next time I'm hit with a major risotto craving, I'll stick to making it from scratch using Kenji's guide.
About the Author: Lucy Baker is a food writer and the author of The Boozy Baker: 75 Recipes for Spirited Sweets. She is currently at work on a second book about homemade food gifts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and dachshund.