This is Comfort Food with a subtle fragrance of spices!
Most of us have memories of rice pudding. If the memory involves something wonderful your mother made, it’s a good one. But if your only memory is that of school cafeteria pudding, well, you might not think as kindly upon this dish.
I have only good memories. My mother used to make it frequently, usually a baked version, and she often included raisins and topped it with maple syrup. Her baked version took three hours to cook at a low temperature, which is why I decided to make mine atop the stove –– 35 minutes. It does take more stirring, but not so much that you can’t be doing something else in the kitchen at the same time.
Arborio makes the best rice pudding
I love the creaminess and the texture of rice pudding made with arborio, which is commonly used in Italian risotto. This short-grained rice gives off a lot of starch, and retains its individual rice kernel texture. It is available in most supermarkets today, and in bulk at co-ops and health food stores.
Now, there’s the raisin controversy. Some people in the family will pick every little raisin out of the pudding, others want extra. I like the raisins, but I like dried apricots here more.
Spice it up
I’ve used the whole spices here to lend a subtle scent to the dish –– cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, the knob of ginger, and the vanilla bean. If you do not have those on hand, substitute just a quarter teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger, and two teaspoons of vanilla extract or paste, but add the vanilla after removing the finished pudding from the heat.
Spiced Arborio Rice Pudding
2 cups half-and-half or light cream
3 cups whole milk
½ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cinnamon sticks
1 plump vanilla bean
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
Small knob ginger, bruised
1 cup Arborio rice
1 additional cup half-and-half or cream
Place cream, milk, sugar, salt, and cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan and start warming over low heat.
Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds into the pot, and add the pod as well.
Place cardamom pods and ginger in a small square of cheesecloth or muslin spice bag and tie. Add this to the pot as well.
Melt a tablespoon of butter in a larger saucepan and add the rice. Stir for about a minute until all the rice grains are coated and start to change color a bit. You do not want to brown this at all, so watch it carefully.
Add the warmed milk to the rice and continue heating mixture over low, stirring frequently, but not constantly, for about 35 to 40 minutes. Don’t stray far from the stove, just keep the heat very low. On my low burner, it is ready in exactly 35 minutes, but your low may be different.
When the mixture is nice and thick, check that a finger swipe across the back of a wooden spoon makes a clean trail that does not fill in. Taste to make sure the rice is soft, but still has individual body.
Remove from the heat and fish out the sachet, the cinnamon sticks, and the vanilla pod. This is a bit messy!
Place in a bowl to chill and cover with plastic wrap set right on the surface of the pudding. This will prevent a skin from forming.
Chill for several hours or overnight. When ready to serve, add the last cup of the cream and mix well.
Spiced Apricot Rum Rice Pudding
This pudding is delightful spiced and served as is, but you can always add your own tweak.
So eat as is, or add whatever you like to the pudding to enhance it. Fresh cherries when they are in season are delightful here. More classic are raisins or other dried fruits. Dried apricots are particularly delicious in this dish, especially if they are soaked in a little dark rum first! You can skip the fruit, and just add the dark rum if you like.
Chop up a half cup of dried apricots. Place them in a small, deep bowl, and add 2 tbsp. of dark rum. Set aside to plump while you cook the pudding.
Once you have finished making the pudding and stirred in the last of the cream, add the apricots and any rum that did not get absorbed.
© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen.