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The ultimate comfort food: rice pudding

Posted in Food & Entertaining

A tourist visiting Southern California right now would be forgiven for wondering what happened to the spectacular California weather: we have been under a cloud of relentless cold and rain which, if it’s a godsend for our parched earth, it drives the average Los Angeleno to stay home on the sofa as much as work will allow. On days like today, one craves warm and soothing food. Something like rice pudding, for instance.

As it so happens, former colleague, loyal reader and always a friend Ellie recently asked me if I had a good recipe for rice pudding. I thought it was odd that Ellie, who is British but lives in Tuscany, would ask me for a rice pudding recipe: she probably thinks my American side must have mastered a decent rice pudding, because it is a dish that is definitely not steeped in Italian culture.

Before my Italian friends start complaining and sending in recipes for rice cakes, it is true that custardy rice cakes do exist but the milky, creamy concoction we think of when we talk about rice pudding is hardly fare found on the Mediterranean shores.

Rice being a humble and cheap ingredient, a variation on rice and milk or rice and water, can be found pretty much in every culture, starting from India, where the first rice pudding was probably made, and stretching all over Asia, crossing over to South America and most European countries.

I was introduced to American rice pudding by an American boyfriend many, many lives ago. I had never encountered the dish before and fell in love. He left but his rice pudding recipe stayed behind and it is the one I still make when a craving strikes, or after a particularly brutal session at the dentist’s. It’s ridiculously rich but oh so satisfying.
Ellie, this one if for you.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 C cooked rice, pretty al dente (I use Arborio, or any risotto rice)
2 C whole milk (or 2% – do not use non fat)
1/4 C sugar
1 egg, beaten
2/3 C golden raisins
1 T butter
1/2 ts vanilla extract
cinnamon to taste (or, alternatively, lemon or orange zest)

  • Cook the rice in water until al dente, or still pretty firm. Either drain and put it back in the pot with the milk or, if most of the water has been absorbed, add 1 1/2 C milk. Add sugar and salt. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, and being careful not to scorch the milk, for about 20 minutes, until thick and creamy.
  • Mix remaining 1/2 C of milk with the egg and add to the pot, stirring vigorously. Add the raisins. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Add butter and vanilla. Spoon into serving dishes and sprinkle with cinnamon.
  • Best eaten cold but I have been known to eat it straight from the pot.

I did not make rice pudding for this post: the pretty picture is from Jamie Oliver.

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15 Comments

  1. As a kid I would always eat leftover rice with butter and sugar. This reminds me of that 🙂

    January 9, 2017
    |Reply
  2. Rice Pudding is a ‘nursery pudding’ in the UK. Made with milk, sugar, ‘pudding’ rice (a short grained rice like a cheap Arborio), topped with a sprinkle of nutmeg and baked in the oven until a brown ‘skin’ appears on the surface and the rice is soft. Loved and loathed in equal measure by generations of children! A.A. Milne, who wrote/created Winnie-the-Pooh, wrote a poem about it:

    What is the matter with Mary Jane?
    She’s crying with all her might and main,
    And she won’t eat her dinner – rice pudding again –
    What is the matter with Mary Jane?

    What is the matter with Mary Jane?
    I’ve promised her dolls and a daisy-chain,
    And a book about animals – all in vain –
    What is the matter with Mary Jane?

    What is the matter with Mary Jane?
    She’s perfectly well, and she hasn’t a pain;
    But, look at her, now she’s beginning again! –
    What is the matter with Mary Jane?

    What is the matter with Mary Jane?
    I’ve promised her sweets and a ride in the train,
    And I’ve begged her to stop for a bit and explain –
    What is the matter with Mary Jane?

    What is the matter with Mary Jane?
    She’s perfectly well and she hasn’t a pain,
    And it’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again!
    What is the matter with Mary Jane?

    January 8, 2017
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      That is so sweet! I heard that English rice pudding was baked but I can’t say I ever tasted it.

      January 9, 2017
      |Reply
    • Ellie
      Ellie

      This was exacly what I was referring to – thank you for reminding me of this poem !! As far as toppings go, nowadays I would definitely choose the French, caramelized version. Like Mary Jane, I was never too convinced by the ‘brown skin’ version of my childhood, but then I didn’t like the ‘white skin’ on hot milk either!! And, like the Scots with porridge, my mother used to make a salty version.

      January 10, 2017
      |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      A dire il vero non l’ho mai fatto vegano, anche se ogni tanto mi capita di cucinare vegano per dei clienti. In questo caso credo che sara’ meno pesante, non cosi cremoso ma comunque buono (specialmente se fatto con il latte di cocco).

      January 9, 2017
      |Reply
  3. Ellie
    Ellie

    Thank you Claudia !! Given your multi-faceted background I was curious to see which version prevailed with you. From the wind battered shores of what can only be described as a bitterly cold morning in Tuscany, the idea of the creamy comfort of rice pudding is so soothing, I could sit down with a bowl right now !!! Let’s not forget, all those who went to school in the UK and had to eat the sorry, stodgy mess that was served up for school dinners (along with the awful stuff they dared call jelly!!) the real rice pudding is this perfect recipe!! There are many variations, I remember when I lived in France people would sometimes caramelize the top of their ‘riz au lait’ and leave the eggs and currants out, depending on the region. In Britain a crunchy topping was achieved in many different ways, not necessarily caramelizing. I love the ultimate, full-fat, creamy version you’ve given – but my mission now is to find some way of concocting the right chemical formula for a Vegan version, to resemble this recipe. An impossible feat methinks, but worth a try…… I’ll let you know if I manage it……

    January 5, 2017
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      That is easy. Fully cook the rice in water, then add it to hot almond milk or coconut milk (or other vegan milk – I happen to prefer almond). Use less of the vegan milk than indicated in the recipe and let cook down. It won’t be as creamy but, especially with coconut milk, it will be pretty creamy. Then omit the butter. Add some fruit – mashed bananas will increase the creaminess factor, and serve. That wasn’t hard, was it? But, wait, have you become vegan??

      January 5, 2017
      |Reply
      • Ellie
        Ellie

        Thank you for the advice. No I haven’t become a Vegan – though I sometimes eat their way – but I often cook for Vegans and hate to relegate them to side-dishes or sorry, tasteless versions of classic recipes like a watery or watered-down rice pudding!! But this might be a subject for another post….

        January 5, 2017
        |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I have been using them as sweetener to my oatmeal. Better than dates.

      January 5, 2017
      |Reply
  4. winstonmoreton
    winstonmoreton

    Cool bitter-sweet back story. The dish was a favourite of mine as a child

    January 4, 2017
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      The man with the rice pudding legacy. I suppose one could be remembered for worse deeds.

      January 5, 2017
      |Reply

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