Nostalgic food: DIY Rice-a-Roni

DIY Rice-a-Roni

When I was a kid we ate essentially the same rotation of meals every week. Chicken, pasta, pork chops, steak, and a few other things made up the bulk of our dinners every 7 days. My dad–though he’ll deny it forever–is insanely fussy, and so life was just easier for my mom if she gave him what she knew he liked in a never-ending rotation. She likes to visit me, incidentally, because I make all kinds of different things and will drag her to places like Vietnamese restaurants. A childhood of pork chops and (gag) tuna noodle casserole does not beg repeating in my adult years.

One thing we used to eat all the time was Rice-a-Roni—we’d have either it or a box of Near East pilaf with the roast chicken and/or steak during the week. When I first moved in with Mr. Pea and was learning to cook, we also ate a lot of those things. But we don’t buy the Rice-a-Roni anymore, as it’s reallllllly salty and you don’t get a lot of bang for your buck. Some time ago I found a recipe for making a homemade version of the childhood classic, and last night, I made it again.

Now proper Rice-a-Roni features rice and vermicelli broken into tiny pieces. As breaking pasta into uniform pieces sounds really unappealing to me, I use a combination of long-grain rice and orzo. It’s really very easy. If you were to really do it properly, you’d get some broth (or you’d have it in your freezer, you overachiever, you), but wanting to keep this dish true to its initial form, I used bullion cubes.

So start by melting 1 T of butter and a 1/2 T of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add 1 c rice and 1/2 c orzo and toast until lightly browned, 3 or 4 minutes. Add 2 cups of water (you’ll likely have to add more) and 2 cubes of bullion, either chicken or beef (just like the boxes of r-n-r!). Bring to a simmer, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Again, you might need to add a little more water to this. You might also want more seasoning, but I can’t add more than two cubes to something in good conscience, since they’re pretty much just salt.

You’ll end up with an enormous quantity of the stuff. We each ate a good-size portion and then ate more, since there was so much of it. I then crammed at least two servings into a pyrex fridge dish, and wound up tossing a little more away for lack of storage. You can feed, oh, six people, I’d say, which is a heck of a lot more than you’ll get out of the box.

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6 responses »

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