Saturday, January 10, 2009

A very late TWD: Arborio Rice Pudding

Our "Tuesday with Dorie" assignment for the week of November 18, 2008, was the Arborio Rice Pudding from "Baking: From My Home to Yours," by Dorie Greenspan. Thanks to Isabelle of Les gourmandises d’Isa for choosing this recipe!

I actually made the recipe on time -- but it's taken me this long to post about it. (Sorry about that!)

I loved this recipe, but my husband tried a little and then left the rest to me. I guess I will have to figure out some other dessert to make along with this in the future, so we can both be happy!

Rice pudding was not one of those things I grew up with, unlike some of you. I only started eating it when I began to visit Indian restaurants and discovered how much I loved Indian-style "milk sweets." That includes the Indian rice pudding called "kheer" or "khir," often flavored with rosewater, cardamom, and pistachio. So that's what I made! I guess this is an "Indian-Italian" or "fusion" recipe since it uses Italian-style Arborio rice.

You know, I think the real "star" of rice pudding is the milk, not the rice or flavorings. So I used the very best milk I could find -- lovely fresh, lightly pasteurized, un-homogenized whole milk from a local "micro-dairy," Blue Marble Family Farm. The flavor is wonderful to start with, and it just got more rich and creamy as I cooked it down.

I started from Dorie's recipe and used natural cane sugar (Demerera sugar) instead of white sugar, to give it a taste a bit like the Indian sugar "jaggery." I added two cardamom pods to the pudding while it cooked, then fished them out at the end. (It took more than an hour to cook the pudding down until it seemed thick enough. Next time I'll simmer it a bit more vigorously to start with.) After I took the pudding off the heat, I stirred in a tablespoon of rose flower water (next time I might use just two teaspoons) and some ground cardamom.

After an overnight rest in the refrigerator, I sprinkled on some chopped pistachios. Ah, lovely! Delicious, delicate, creamy...well, that's what I thought. Jim just said it was "bland." Oh well, I still love him even if he doesn't like rice pudding...

Thoughts for next time -- I'd like to try not rinsing or parboiling the rice, to see how the extra starch affects the texture of the pudding. And how about some orange blossom water instead of rosewater?

Click here for the recipe as posted on Isa's site, but note: the cooking time should be changed -- Dorie herself posted to the "Problems and Questions" for this recipe that there was a mistake in the book, and the proper cooking time was 55 minutes.

Postcript: I found a couple of authentic recipes for Indian-style rice pudding in books I currently have out from the library.

The "Chawal Kee Kheer" in Suvir Saran's "Indian Home Cooking" seems remarkably luxurious for home cooking -- it includes a gallon of half-and-half and 2 cups of heavy cream. The total cooking time is 4 1/2 hours minimum, maybe more. Partway through, basmati rice, golden raisins, and almonds are browned in ghee (clarified butter) with cardamom, then added. The sugar goes in at the end, just before cooling. It's served with a drizzle of saffron-infused cream. Wow! Fit for kings and queens!

On the other hand, the recipe for "Phirni" or Light Rice Pudding in Madhur Jaffrey's "Climbing the Mango Trees" is very simple indeed. She says that for the dish of her childhood, Basmati rice was washed, drained, and spread out to dry in the sun, then ground coarsely -- but you can use rice flour instead. Milk, sugar, and crushed cardamom are brought to a boil, mixed with a paste of ground rice and milk, and simmered for about 15 minutes. After cooking, it's sprinkled with chopped pistachios. Ms. Jaffrey says her mother always cooled the pudding in "shallow individual bowls, shakoras, made of rough terra-cotta. We could taste the earth in the pudding."

I suspect rice pudding is a very ancient dish. Rice has been a domestic crop for many thousands of years, and it was gathered wild before that. Imagine ancient rice-growing people living in a region where they also milk domestic animals (cows, goats, sheep, water buffalo) -- the notion of cooking rice, milk, and flavorings together seems pretty obvious. Isn't it fun to become part of history by cooking a dish with ancient roots?

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