Easter would not be complete without my family’s favorite rice pudding. And if you need a last minute desert…I bet you have all of the ingredients already on hand! And don’t limit this to only Easter…it is a perfectly acceptable breakfast, lunch, dessert, or snack. It’s even been known to count as dinner during the hustle of cooking all day before a holiday.
Growing up I had a Portuguese second Mom named Fatima and she made us rice pudding for every holiday, every time we came to visit or she babysat us, and sometimes for no reason at all. I remember going to her house and watching her stir a huge pot of steaming rice on the stove, and then adding milk, milk and more milk, sugar and then either fresh eggs or small packets of European pudding mix. She’d always end up making more than she anticipated, would run out of large dishes and then start pulling out every vessel she could find until every surface of her counter and table was filled with a bowl, cup or saucer of the creamy deliciousness. I was always allowed to eat as much as I wanted, but not until it was all carefully sprinkled with cinnamon. I watched in amazement as she would fill her left palm with a mound of cinnamon, then take a pinch between her right thumb and pointer finger and sprinkle perfect lines in a criss-cross pattern across the top of each dish. NOW it was ready to eat.
Even my mom who was very health conscious and rarely let us eat sweets loved Fatima’s rice pudding, and considered it its own food group…not cloyingly sweet or rich like a lot of rice puddings out there…the perfect snack for any time of day.
When Fatima and her family moved back to Portugal 10 years ago, it was up to me to keep my family’s bellies full of rice pudding. I never had a written recipe but after all those years of watching Fatima I felt (somewhat) confident in my ability to make a decent representation. I’ve had batches that are spot on and others that are less than stellar. But it always gets eaten, and without fail I always end up making more than I set out to make! I’ve realized it’s because you don’t need nearly as much rice as you’d think. Fatima always used long grain white rice but I prefer the slight chewiness of arborio. This is the only modification I’ve made, and as you start experimenting with it, I’m sure you’ll come up with modifications of your own. This is a really forgiving pudding and turns out best if you taste and adjust as you go along. It’s a really sensory experience…I love the way the rice smells as it’s steaming, the way I can see the milk change from watery and pale to thick and yellow, the way I run my finger along the back of the wooden spoon to see how thick it is, and the way it sets up in the pan.
The recipe below will fill roughly a 9″ x 13″ x 2″ glass pyrex dish, however it can easily be doubled or tripled. And in the true spirit of this pudding, I suggest you make a little bit more, fill whatever dishes you have, and then gather your family around with spoons in hand. But not until you sprinkle cinnamon over the top.
Recipe: Rice Pudding
Makes a 9″ x 13″ x 2″ pan
1 c white rice, preferable arborio, but any white rice will do
2 c water
1/4 tsp sea salt
4 c whole or 2% milk
1/2 c granulated sugar (or more or less to taste)
1 egg yolk
Zest of 1/2 lemon, peeled into large strips (about 1/2″ x 2″)
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, combine rice, water and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Put the lid on the pot, reduce to a low simmer and cook for 10-12 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
Remove the lid, add the milk and lemon zest and simmer over medium heat until the rice is soft and the milk has thickened, about 15-20 minutes. The mixture should be slightly boiling but not at a rapid boil. Every few minutes, stir with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom and sides to make sure the milk is not sticking and burning.
The rice is thick enough when it coats the spoon and you can draw a line in the pudding on the spoon with your finger (this is called “napante” in French btw, NOW you know everything and you’re welcome.) If it looks to you like there is a lot of rice and not enough pudding, simply add more milk, then simmer and reduce it.
When you’ve attained a good rice to pudding ratio, it’s time to add the sugar (adding it sooner would make the pudding more prone to burning.) Start by adding 1/3 of a cup. Stir until it’s dissolved, then give the pudding a taste. Keep in mind that chilling mutes flavors, so heir on the side of a little sweeter than you’d like your finished product to be. Continue adding sugar until it tastes spectacular, then remove the strips of lemon rind.
In a small bowl, wisk the egg yolk, then add about half a cup of hot pudding to the yolk and wisk until combined. Remove the pudding from the heat and sir the egg mixture into the pot of pudding. Return to the heat and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla extract.
Give it one more taste, then pour it into your pan…or pans. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top immediately as the pudding starts to set up and form a skin which makes the cinnamon less sticky.
Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate within 12 hours. It’s best eaten within this window, is also great cold, and even better when brought back to room temperature before serving. And according to my little brother, it’s even great eaten with your bare hands.