He was a staunch potato eater. Occasionally a bowl of spaghetti appeared on the table, but when rice was mentioned, he raised his eyebrows and grumbled, “Rice is for Chine-eeez.” The rest of us slumped in our seats longing for the exotica of chow mein, chop suey and egg foo young alongside bowls of fluffy white stuff.
The only exception to the forbidden grain came with rice pudding. Sometimes we saw squares of rice custard dusted with nutmeg, but the best ever was milky sweet rice that came to the kitchen table on Glenwood Avenue as a side dish along with fried venison steaks, Roman Meal bread and slow-cooked green beans with bacon.
Once the holiday cookie tins are bare and we’re ready to accompany winter with hearty soups and stews for supper, there’s no better comfort than a cup of simple rice pudding for dessert. Rice pud’s perfect for a snow day when you need to make do with what’s on hand and still hope for an evening treat. Let’s count on milk and butter in the fridge, rice and sugar in the pantry and a vanilla bean or extract on the shelf.
If there’s any chance for a rice selection, choose a round grain variety such as Japanese, Egyptian, Italian, Spanish, or any basic round rice. In a pinch use long grain if that’s all there is and the streets are snow-packed. Give the pudding time to simmer on a slow burner. Once it has thickened to a soft cream, spoon it into cups and garnish with a spoonful of homemade jam. Then wrap up in a blanket and return to Harry Potter.
Simple Rice Pudding
2 cups whole milk (16 fl. oz.)
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped (or ½ teaspoon vanilla)
toothpick size cinnamon stick or larger shard of canela
2 strips, yellow only, lemon peel (optional)
¼ cup round rice (Japanese, Egyptian, Arborio or other)
3–4 tablespoons sugar
½ tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)
Rinse a heavy saucepan with water, add milk, salt, vanilla (add extract after cooking), cinnamon, lemon peel, rice and place covered over low heat.
Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30–40 minutes or until rice is tender. Add sugar, butter and simmer another 10–15 minutes or until nicely thickened. Remove cinnamon and lemon peels. Serve warm with a spoonful of homemade jam or fresh cranberry sauce, or cool and add a generous spoonful of whipped cream for an imperial rice pudding. Serves 3 to 4.
Quick Jam Topping
6 oz. frozen mixed berries (1 cup)
3 oz. sugar (1/2 cup – 1 tablespoon)
Combine over moderate heat until berries melt and sugar dissolves. Boil up quickly until thickened enough for jam.