Rice pudding!

by Laura A

The finished rice pudding.  These Nutella jars are really coming in handy for desserts!

Saturday was cooking day for me.  After spending the whole week doing taxes, that was a nice break.  I made broth and then tried out one of my cooking class recipes.

For dinner, I made a dish I first had at my friend Barbara’s home in Greenwich Village.  It’s a Bittman dish that our family nicknamed “burned Brussels sprouts.”  When we had them at Barbara’s, we couldn’t stop eating them!  They’re almost like crispy little hash browns, but with all the virtue of vegetables. With tonight’s Brussels sprouts (don’t you like how I put the vegetable first?), we’ll have pork chops and a Dolcetto di dogliani, which is a light red wine. And then we’ll have dessert, which is what this post is mainly about.

First, though, I can assure you we don’t eat like this every night!  The rest of the week has been quick vegetable dishes. And I was out late two evenings in a row.  I wanted to celebrate everyone being home, and Sarie finishing her Western Lit midterm.

But anyway, the dessert:  This was my favorite part of this week’s cooking class, which was on rices and pastas.  Rice pudding with carmelized oranges on top.  It’s as good as any rice pudding I’ve ever had in the US, whether the Southern kind with raisins (slightly burned) or the kind I used to get in Thai restaurants in NYC.  Perhaps you can tell that rice puddings are way up there on my list of desserts.  They even rate an exclamation point in the post title!

So I took photos as I made it.

This isn’t such a well-focused photo, but it does give you an quick glance at the ingredients. Your vanilla bean should still be flexible.  And unfortunately, I had to use UHT cream.  Fresh cream is rather hard to find in our neighborhood!

Ingredients include:  70g. rice, 1/2 l. milk, 250 g. cream, a piece of vanilla, and 70 g. sugar.  Yes, I know, it’s metric.  I’ve got some new metric measuring devices, and I’m trying to learn the system.  You can convert if you want.

A word about the rice.  I used Ribe.  It’s a “fine” rice which is even rounder and starchier than Arborio, which is considered “superfine.” (By that standard, I don’t know what they’d call Basmati, but they do sell it here.) The rice is supposed to fall apart into a pudding.  Other rice varieties in the same category include L’Ariete, il Cervo, il Drago, l’Europa, il Loto, il Razza 77, URB, il Ringo, Il Rizzotto, il Sant’Andrea, lo Smeraldo and il Veneria.  Good luck!  I’m just including them in case you have Italian groceries nearby.  But even I only found one, Ribe.

First you blanch the rice by putting it in cold water and bringing the water to a boil, then rinsing immediately.  I made this easier by sticking a strainer over a saucepan.

Then you mix the cream, milk and a piece of cut-open vanilla (the one they used in class was about an inch long) together with the rice.  It will look like way too much milk for the amount of rice, but that’s okay.  Simmer for 50 minutes over low heat, stirring from time to time.  Then add the sugar and cook for ten more minutes.

Note: The pudding needs two hours to cool to room temperature, so it helps to start it early.  We actually didn’t have quite that long, though, and it was still good.

Pudding thickening in cream and milk.  You can see I was browning Brussels sprouts at the same time (I had two pans of sprouts going.)

Meanwhile, prepare the orange topping.  For this, you need an orange per serving, 140 g. sugar (the recipe was for four servings), and a tablespoon Grand Marnier per serving.  You don’t have to use the Grand Marnier, but it adds to the flavor.  The bottle I had to buy was so big, I’m going to be able to make this pudding for years.

I used navel oranges, which are sweet and have a thick peel, but they’re a bit hard to section.  Zest the oranges. Then take a paring knife and cut away the peel, finding the right curved stroke to cut away all the peel without cutting too much into the flesh.  Obviously, tangerines and sectioned, fibrous types of oranges aren’t going to work so well for this.  After peeling, stick your knife into the side of each section and cut out the section without getting the fiber, dropping the sections into a bowl.  (Again, the type of orange makes a big difference here.)  Fold the leftover divisions over like a book as you go.  When finished, squeeze the remaining juice into the bowl.

Blanch the zest in boiling water, then rinse.  This removes the bitterness. Again, cooking in a strainer comes in handy here for quickly removing the small pieces.

Blanched orange zest cooling in the strainer.

Put 140 g. sugar into a saucepan, pour some of the juice into the sugar (I used about half), and heat over a “lively flame.”  (I love Italian descriptions!) Hmm, I don’t think it means to burn it, but do get it bubbling so that the mixture turns a lighter color.

Then add the remaining juice and cook it until it becomes a light syrup.  The recipe doesn’t say how long, but I promise, it works.  You just want the sugar to dissolve.

Add the zest, and then add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier, if you’re using it, for every serving.  Simmer for a few more minutes and let cool.

In the spring, you can make strawberry topping with 250 cl. white wine  and 125 g. sugar instead, using a little extra water to give it the right consistency.

Finished orange syrup cooling the sauce pan

Finishing up the typing on Monday, I got so hungry thinking about this dessert that my stomach started growling!

Oh, and one other thing I learned about rice this week:  Never try to make a risotto out of brown rice, even if it is a short grain rice like Arborio.  I thought I’d get healthy and substitute brown Arborio for the regular kind, and the girls in the grocery store even said I could do it.  But it takes about two hours, never quite releases its starch, and by that time your vegetable soffritto is mush!

Someone probably could have told me this, but I am a confirmed experimenter, and with food at least, don’t mind throwing caution to the winds occasionally.  No doubt I got what I deserved when I had to stand at the stove for two hours stirring in so much liquid that eventually I ran out of broth and started using water.  So now I’m giving you the benefit of my experience–If you want brown rice, there are all kinds of dishes that it works well for, but for risotto and of course for pudding, starch is a good thing!

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