The Risotto Lesson: A shortcut may not be so wonderful

“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”
― James JoyceUlysses

When I was in third or fourth grade, more years ago than I care to admit, our reading book included a story called “The Shortest Way Round is the Longest Way Home.” I might be misremembering the title, because most of the references I found have the expression switched: the longest way round is the shortest way home.

But the meaning of the story stuck with me: Some children wanted to go somewhere—maybe the ol’ swimmin’ hole—and instead of walking on the road that led around a big hill from their house, they took a shortcut path down the hill. They had a great time swimming or whatever it was they set out to do, but when they came home, they discovered that the shortcut wasn’t so easy on the way back. They had to climb the big hill, and they arrived home tired and sweaty.

Risotto in the microwave?

I thought of this story recently when I tried a “shortcut” for making risotto in the microwave.

I had always been a little afraid of risotto, because I had read how long it takes to make and how you have to watch it every minute. When you see it on restaurant menus, it’s usually with a warning that it will take 20 minutes to prepare.

So when Cooking Light magazine ran this recipe for microwave risotto a few months ago, I thought I’d give it a try.

Well, first it took me about 10 minutes to find a microwave conversion program online and figure out how long each of those steps would take for my 825-watt microwave instead of their 1000-watt machine.

Making the risotto was easy enough, but whenever the timer dinged, I had to get my potholders, take out the dish, stir the risotto, put it back in the microwave, then reset the timer. It was a real nuisance.

Trying it the “real” way

In order to see if “real” risotto was so much more difficult, I found another recipe from Cooking Light (printed in March, 2002). The ingredients are almost identical, but the method is different.

The verdict? Both versions tasted good, but I preferred the traditional method, even though it took a little longer. I felt more in control stirring it on top of the stove, compared to waiting for the microwave to ding. And I could read a magazine while stirring, just as I could while waiting for the microwave.

Both recipes are printed below.

This experience reminded me that in cooking, patience is often a virtue. We’re all busy these days, with many competing demands on our time. We’re all looking for shortcuts that will make life a little easier. But sometimes what looks like a shortcut really isn’t.

If there’s a spiritual message here, I think it may be that there’s no shortcut to spiritual fulfillment. Many people complain about church and synagogue services because they don’t find them “spiritually fulfilling.” Others flit from one religion to another, seeking enlightenment, and then they are disappointed because they don’t find it.

Perhaps spiritual fulfillment comes only at the end of a long journey that one has to put some effort into. I’m sure there are some people who have heard a particular guru speak or attended a service somewhere and had a spiritual awakening. But those who expect this to happen are more likely to be disappointed.

(The photo in the first recipe is my microwaved risotto. The photo in the second recipe is by Ewan Munro, taken at Telegraph at the Earl of Derby in London, courtesy of Wikimedia.)