Before a product called Rice-a-Roni started gracing supermarket shelves in 1958, a little old Armenian lady, Pailadzo Captanian, was cooking up her special rice pilaf for family, friends and Lois DeDomenico. Lois, who briefly rented a room from Captanian, was the wife of Tom DeDomenico, one of the founders of the family-owned Golden Grain Macaroni Co. originally located in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Captanian taught Lois her recipes, including her special pilaf, which Lois later recreated for family dinners. At one of these gatherings, Tom’s brother Vince had an epiphany, that hey, “this would be good in a box.” After perfecting the product in the company’s test kitchen in San Leandro (the plant was at 982 Bryant Street in SF prior), Rice-a-Roni was born.
So what was the original recipe that inspired a pilaf revolution? As with any grandmotherly comfort food, lots of butter is involved. And it requires a bit more effort than boiling water and opening a box. But as Michael Pollan has pointed out, food is healthier when cooked by a human and not a corporation.
The following is the recipe as passed down to Captanian’s granddaughter-in-law, Jacqueline Captanian.
- 7/8 cup long grain white rice
- 1/8 cup fideo capellini crushed into small pieces
- ½ cube butter
- ½ large onion, chopped
- ½ 4.5 oz jar sliced mushrooms packed in water and drained. (optional)
- 1 tbsp pine nuts
- 2 ½ cups boiling water
- 2 ½ chicken bouillon cubes
- ½ tbsp dried parsley flakes
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- (The broth should taste somewhat salty before it is added to rice mixture)
-Melt the butter over medium-high flame in a medium sauce pan and add rice and fideo cappellini and stir constantly, cooking until it starts to turn golden.
-Add chopped onion and cook until almost clear.
-Add mushrooms and pine nuts.
-Stir constantly over medium high flame, until the mixture is golden brown with dark flecks of fideo capellini.
-Meanwhile, make broth by heating water to boiling and adding bouillon cubes, parsley flakes, salt and pepper (you can heat this in the microwave or on the stove)
-Stir to dissolve the bouillon.
-Add boiling broth to browned rice mixture, (note: broth /rice mixture should taste slightly salty), return to a bowl, stir once, and cover, then turn down the hat to a low simmer. Do not lift the cover for 35 minutes.
-Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork; let rest until ready to serve.