Not Undercooked Risotto

I’m hosting the Dec/Jan round for Cook the Books.   Cook the Books is a group of like minded culinary readers who obsess with foodie fiction and non-fiction alike.  Well, maybe it’s not an obsession for all of us but I certainly could find a bit to relate to in Dan Adhoot’s Undercooked: How I Let Food Become My Life Navigator and How Maybe that’s a Dumb Way to Live, this round’s featured book.  You can read the announcement post here.

About the book:

A collection of hilarious essays about how food became one man’s obsession and coping mechanism, and how it came to rule—and sometimes ruin—his relationships, from the Cobra Kai actor, stand-up comic, and host of Food Network’s Raid the Fridge.

“When most people say they have an unhealthy relationship with food, they mean they eat too much of it or too little. When I say I have an unhealthy relationship with food, I mean it’s what gives my life meaning. That’s a really dumb way to live your life, as the stories in this book will attest to.”

Despite an impressive résumé as an actor and writer, Dan Ahdoot realized that food has been the through line in the most important moments of his life. Growing up as a middle child, Ahdoot struggled to find his place in the family until he and his father discovered their shared love for la gourmandise. But when the tragic death of his brother pushed his parents to strengthen their Jewish faith and adopt a strictly kosher diet, Ahdoot and his father lost that savored connection.

To fill the absence left by his brother and father, Ahdoot began to obsess over food and make it central in all his relationships. This, he admits, is probably crazy, but it makes for good stories. From breaking up with girlfriends over dietary restrictions, to hunting just off the Long Island Expressway, to savoring his grandmother’s magical food that was his only tactile connection to his family’s home country of Iran, to jetting off to Italy to dine at the one of the world’s best restaurants, only to send the risotto back, Ahdoot’s droll observations on his unconventional adventures bring an absurdly funny yet heartfelt look at what happens when you let your stomach be your guide.

What I thought…

Adhoot might say the basis for Undercooked was his obsession with food.  While that is true, food memory plays a huge part in each of Adhoot’s connected personal essays. Food did (and still does) mean a lot to Adhoot but his memory of food becomes the catalyst, it’s those memories with his father as they bonded over food that he tries to recover and recreate.

It’s also the very first topic of conversation for his podcast Green Eggs and Dan:  “What’s your first food memory?”  What answers does he get?

Every guest’s memory is either 100 percent positive or 100 percent negative.  My first food memory lives in a nostalgic purgatory.  It started as a tale of love, but over time erred to the negative, and is now somewhere in between. (38)

Adhoot’s first food memory was falafel on a trip with his parents to Israel; then came Falafel Phil.  (Can the entertainment industry be more stereotypical banal and ignorant?  I mean how did they even create someone like Falafel Phil?  It was only in 2011 that Kickin’ It aired.  I’ve hope we’ve come a long way since then.)*

As stated above, the book is formed into essays that could stand alone but are better read together.

In the namesake chapter, “Undercooked,” Adhoot and his then fiancé score a reservation at Osteria Francescana.§  The couple struggled with whether or not they have the audacity to actually send back crunchy risotto at the absolute Numero Uno restaurant in the world. On the exact day that it was announced the best restaurant in the world. What would you have done?  And, if you knew the chef would send out a passive-aggressive “filet of mackerel” as a replacement?  Would that help you make your mind up to keep mute?

This culinary experience was  supposed to be the once-in-a-lifetime perfect meal:  “The whole point of these pretentious endeavors is that for three hours life is perfect and nothing can go wrong.  It’s less of a dining event and more of an art installation that you play a part in.  And that risotto took down the whole veneer, from which we never recovered” (69).  The risotto not only brought down his engagement it also may have been the spark for him to examine his own undercooked life.

The chapter containing an homage to his grandparents specifically his grandmother’s food was heartfelt. It also contained a very informative and descriptive run down on Persian food plus the connection it has for his family: “Food in our family is more than just sustenance.  It holds memories, joy, pain, family, heritage, and heritage lost”(123). ß

I truly laughed out loud while reading.  Not to be gross, but his  “s#!t tent” episode in the elk hunting chapter had me crying.   Then, there’s the scene where he’s trying to impress a young lady by substituting cream of tartar for coke.  He has explosive sneezing attacks but ends up making her a souffle.

Undercooked is a bittersweet read.  He uses food experiences to substitute for his father’s relationship (after the death of his brother), he participates in a truly horrible television show, he loses a fiancé (another relationship that he tried to hold together with food), and doesn’t explore a promising relationship because of a food allergy.

Ironically, it’s delivering Meals on Wheels that provides an epiphany to him, that maybe his obsession with the perfect meal is meaningless.  It is totally NOT that he’s delivering 5 star food to his MoW clients.  If anything, it’s barely adequate cafeteria style food in Styrofoam trays.  But his clients are thrilled with the deliveries.  Perspective is everything.

Good restaurants aren’t the ones winning all the awards; they’re the ones creating a nourishing community through food where anyone can play. (202)

Connection and memory are everything. ∫

While I wouldn’t classify this book as a rollicking laughfest, I probably enjoyed it more because of the truths that Adhoot uncovers.

Don’t skip the Epilogue as Adhoot tries to get a dill rice recipe from his mother.  It’s complete with a transcript of a wacky mother/son phone conversation.  And, whatever you do, do not skip the footnotes.  They are a laughfest.   (And are much funnier than mine below….much funnier.)

*If you haven’t read the book, know that Adhoot was cast (much to his dismay) as Falafel Phil in the Disney series Kickin’ It.  I pulled up one clip on YouTube and could only watch about 30 seconds of it.
§ They weren’t a couple long after this meal.
ß There’s that memory motif again.
∫ Another memory reference footnote.

The Food:

While there’s a lot of food mentioned in the novel, I was stuck on falafel and risotto.  It has been a really long time since we’ve had risotto so I decided to try my hand at it again and try not to serve it raw.

Instead of a classic risotto (which was my original intent), I found myself with extra butternut squash.  I used the recipe from one of my Gourmet cookbooks (the green one), but I jazzed it up a bit with a bit of tomato powder (that I dried and processed myself this summer).

Butternut Risotto with Chives and Tomato Powder

Debra (based on Butternut Squash Risotto from Gourmet)

The squash adds a bit of sweetness and the tomato powder adds a bit of tang and some nice color. I used my own tomato powder from cherry tomatoes that I dried and pulverized this past summer.  You can purchase tomato powder online.  (I looked it up.)


  • 1 (2 lb.) butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded and cut into 1/2″ chunks
  • 2 T. butter, divided
  • 4 T. olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 5 1/2 c. vegetable broth
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 c. Arborio rice
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 1/2 c. finely grated Parmesan
  • chopped chives and tomato powder


  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. (Use the convection roast setting if you have it.) Toss squash with 2 T. olive oil and salt and pepper. Place on a prepared sheet pan lined with foil. Roast 20 minutes or until tender.
  2. While squash is roasting, heat stock to a simmer in a 2-3 quart sauce pan. Reduce heat and keep it barely simmering
  3. When squash is done, remove from oven. Let cool slightly and mash. (The mash does not need to be smooth. Leave some small chunks.)
  4. Melt 1 T. butter in a heavy 4-quart sauce pan. Add remaining 2 T. olive oil. Add onion and cook until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute . Add rice and cook, stirring, one minute more.  Add wine and simmer, stirring, until wine is absorbed, about 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add 1 cup of simmering stock and cook, stirring constantly and keeping it at a strong simmer, until absorbed. Continue cooking and adding stock, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender but not mushy. The risotto should look creamy. Cook time is around 20 minutes. (There will be some stock left over.)
  6. Stir in mashed squash and cheese and remaining tablespoon butter. If desired, thin the risotto with some of the leftover stock.
  7. Garnish with chives and tomato powder.

Yield: 4

Please note that my chives were freeze dried.  Ironically, I went out to snip some fresh (which I normally can do all winter long.)  Apparently in our week of sub-zero temperature recently, they’re all dead.  Never fear, they will be back.

I have to say that my risotto was pretty darn perfect with a bit of tooth but definitely not crunchy.  🙂

I am coming in at the last possible moment for a book that I am hosting.  Please consider joining us for the February/March round of Cook the Books.  Simona (briciole) is hosting the graphic novel Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (April 2013).  Can’t wait.

A round up of all the recipes will be posted soon at Cook the Books.   I’m also adding this post Foodies Read.

6 comments to Not Undercooked Risotto

  • mae

    Your review is great: just the right amount of detail, perfect comments about what you read. I feel as if you have told me enough that I don’t have to read the book, which is sometimes too much but in this case just right. Your risotto looks delicious.

    best, mae at

  • Great recipe choice Debra. Thanks for hosting.

  • I love that you made a not Undercooked Risotto and with squash! It sounds really good. I dried and powdered a few things just recently as well – calamondin skins for use as a zest, and turmeric, to use in a paste and the blue kind as well for a salve.

  • cathy branciaroli

    I just love that we were both inspired to make risotto. Thanks for hosting & thanks for posting! cathy

  • Great choice of recipe! I love the idea of tomato powder: nice! Sorry about your frozen chives. Yes, they’ll be back: they do that even in my badly tended garden 🙂