I would say that I’m not that big of a fan of pesto, though the only times I’ve ever had it, involved buying it from the supermarket. And that can be enough to ruin just about anything. Yet I have reviewed both of Specially Selected’s other gourmet macaroni and cheese products (you can see those reviews here), so I figured I might as well go ahead and complete the trifecta.
True to form, I wasn’t really a big fan. There’s just something about pesto that doesn’t do anything for me, which is certainly odd, considering I like just about all of the ingredients separately. Of course, like I said, I’ve never had the fresh stuff, and I’m sure something is lost in the translation of shoving it into a boxed, factory-made macaroni and cheese product.
The pestos I’ve had can best be described as “bland and salty”, a combination that you don’t hear of too often; this one is certainly no different. There’s definitely a cheese flavor, courtesy of the accompanying cheese powder packet, but this it gives way to a pesto flavor that consists largely of salt, maybe a hint of basil, and then that’s about it. Maybe I’m just expecting too much from pesto; maybe it’s supposed to be a lighter flavor that just kind of shows up and just as quickly disappears. I thought maybe Specially Selected would have the antidote for that kind of thought process; that they would have the first pesto recipe to truly wow me, and turn me into a believer.
Overall: 4/10. Take this review with a grain of salt, because I’m not a huge pesto fan, but I was not at all impressed with this dish. I should mention I’ve only had pestos a few times, and all of them were in supermarket products; I was hoping Specially Selected would make me a believer of pesto, but they failed in the same regards as other ones I’ve had. There’s some cheesiness, courtesy of the sauce packet, and then saltiness, followed by a hint of basil, and then…nothing. That’s it. Maybe it’s supposed to be like this, and I’m just expecting too much, but I was not a fan at all.
SPECIALLY SELECTED ROASTED GARLIC & CHEESE RISOTTO
|Proof that some amazing things can come out of a box.|
I’ve had risotto once in my life; ironically, it was at a fancy restaurant that specialized in “small plates”, and their risotto (bacon risotto with an egg cooked exactly to 62 ½ degrees) was ironically one of their most popular dishes. I figured that would be as good a way as any to get my first taste, so I plunked down $11 for the right to try it. It was easily the worst plate of the evening. But since that was my first try, I thought that maybe I just wasn’t into risotto.
This prejudice toward the food continued when my wife informed me she was buying a box of Priano’s Garlic and Cheese Risotto, an Italian Special Buy at Aldi stores. I merely scoffed, told her that risotto sucked, and that it was a waste of money, and then we continued our shopping trip, never speaking about it again.
Flash forward to about a week later, when my wife informed me while I was at work that she had made it--and that it was incredible. Again, I scoffed, but I did make sure to have her hold me a couple bites of that “incredible” risotto, which I knew would disappoint me and simply confirm my suspicions that risotto is simply not for me.
Now, before I go on, I must make a couple of slight disclaimers: 1.) My wife “livened up” this dish by grating fresh Asiago cheese into it, which no doubt heightens the flavor in its favor, and 2.) I ate it cold. I could have microwaved it to approximate the flavor right off the stove, but I was hungry and didn’t feel a need to necessitate such drastic action. But none of this stuff really matters, because this risotto is absolutely stupendous.
It really is. It’s salty, like all risotto is, but the balance of cheese and garlic is perfect, to the point that both leave their mark on the taste buds, but neither one overwhelms the other. This is a tough line to walk, especially with a flavor that can be as strong as garlic, but it perfectly walks that line. After one bite, I was addicted, and I lapped up the rest like a pig eating from a trough--it goes without saying that I would purchase this again without any hesitation.
I’m also speaking from actual experience when I say that we thought this was better than $11 risotto we’ve eaten from a fancy restaurant. We might be the only two people in the world that think that, and we’re certainly no experts on risotto, but taste buds don’t lie. If you like or love risotto, you should really give this a try. It won’t disappoint.
Overall: 9/10. My first (and only) previous experience with risotto was as a small plate from a fancy restaurant, that cost $11--and neither my wife nor I cared much for it. So I figured if high-end risotto didn’t do anything for me, then maybe I just wasn’t a risotto kind of guy. Well, at the urging of my wife, we picked up a box of Priano’s Garlic and Cheese Risotto--and it knocked our socks off. The balance of cheese and garlic is flawless, and after one bite, I was addicted. Neither of us would hesitate to get this again. For the sake of full disclosure, my wife livened it up by adding fresh Asiago cheese, which no doubt helps add to the flavor, but there’s no way the simple addition of cheese would make a bad product this good. If you like risotto, don’t hesitate to pick this up.