Can someone explain to me how we can boil some grains, like oatmeal, in milk with a little bit of sugar and mix in some dry fruit and it is called breakfast but when you do it to others, like rice, it is considered dessert? These are the questions that taunt my brain when I wake up in the morning and realize all I want for breakfast is rice pudding but then force myself to eat “normal” breakfast food like oatmeal or an egg and toast. Or so I tell you.
Nevertheless, as my rice pudding craving has shifted from a delicious random thing I had for dessert last week — when our apartment was so cold, only stuffed cabbage, pirogis and comfort desserts from Veselka would warm me — into the kind of overdrive that demands I have it for breakfast (but I didn’t. Like I told you already.) and dessert all day, every day, it seems time to refresh my favorite recipe. The basic proportions are easy to remember but I like to step it up in some traditional ways — half a vanilla bean, a splash of almond extract at the end — and some that are decidedly less so, like cooking it with a bay leaf, a trick I picked up from this one and I know it sounds odd, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, okay? It adds a little something-something you might become quickly infatuated with. Oh, and I like to make it with arborio rice because the same things that make it dreamy in risotto — starchiness, creaminess — bring rice pudding to a whole new level.
Anyway, if we must consider this “dessert” it’s worth noting that as far as desserts go, it’s quite earnest. A dried grain, a modicum of sugar and with more milk than most of us get in a whole day in each portion (and more, if, like me, you can’t keep away from it) I do say it’s the perfect dessert for a month when those dern Resolutes have clogged my* swim lanes and even the most decidedly diet-free of us ispondering an ever-nearing beach vacation.
* Yes, they’re mine. I earned them the day it was 16 degrees outside, the pool’s heater was broken and I went swimming anyway; uphill, both ways.
Arborio (Vanilla-Almond) Rice Pudding
- 1/2 cup arborio rice, or another short-grained variety such as Carnaroli or sushi
- 4 cups milk (both whole and reduced-fat have worked for me)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
In a large saucepan, place all the ingredients, except the extract(s), if using. Bring it to a gentle boil and then turn it down to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom, until rice is very soft and plump, about 30 to 40 minutes. Taste the rice to check for doneness. Take the pudding off the heat and stir in the extract(s). Pour into one large or four individual ramekins or dessert bowls. You can serve it immediately or let it chill in the fridge. Either way, keep it away from Deb.