By all accounts the weather in Vancouver has been pretty dang cold lately, some days posting temperatures even colder than those here in Stockholm. Lets not even talk about the insanely low temperatures some of my favourite people are experiencing in Calgary and Saskatoon. Anyone need comfort food? Rice pudding is one of my go-to comfort foods, and this version is easy, simple, and light.
I used to barter home cooked food for incredible hand crafted glass lamp-work jewelery made by my lovely talented friend Christa Giles , and this rice pudding was a favourite of hers (I almost posted a picture of it in a cottage cheese container just for old times sake). Christa is a real gem of a friend; she has this amazing non-judgmental brand of tough love that makes it so I can talk to her about *anything* and not feel annoyed when she gives me advice. I find that rare. She has been a major cheerleader for me and this blog, always reposting and re-tweeting (do you follow me on Twitter? If you don't, do!) my latest entries, even though I have never, not even once, asked her to do it. However, she recently admitted she hasn't actually made anything from The Muffin Myth. Perhaps this will change things.
Rice pudding is often a very rich dessert, laden with heavy cream and sugar. This version is light, made with 1% milk (1.5% in Sweden) simmered for a good long time until it reduces into a thick and creamy pudding that has an illusion of richness but could just as easily be eaten as a nutritious breakfast. There is less than a tablespoon of sugar per (½ cup) serving, yet the pudding is still very sweet. I've cut the sugar down to ⅔ of what it was when I first started making this recipe, and to be honest, I think you could cut it down a bit more and not miss it at all. You'll have to play around with the level of sweetness that you prefer, but do note that the pudding becomes sweeter after it has sat for a while, especially if you've added raisins to it.
Arborio rice (Italian short grain rice, also used in risotto), which has a higher starch content than other rices, is key here. The starches break down as the pudding cooks and help to thicken the milk, resulting in a thick and creamy pudding. The other key is using really good vanilla. I used half of a vanilla bean (thanks, Cam!), which I love because you get such pure vanilla flavour and you can see the teeny black flecks of vanilla seeds sprinkled throughout the pudding. If you don't have a vanilla bean, fear not. You can use vanilla extract* in it's place, just add it at the end of the cooking time rather than the beginning. I love raisins in rice pudding, but if you don't like raisins you can leave them out or use something else in their place. Slivered almonds, lightly toasted in a dry skillet, add some crunch and some great nutty flavour to this dish. I can think of other fruit and nut combos that would be great as well. Cranberries and pistachios? Dried apricots and pine nuts? Cardamom instead of vanilla?
Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding Recipe:
I have been making this recipe for at least a decade. It originally came from a recipe that my mother clipped from a newspaper, and I'm sorry to say I don't know which one. I do, however, still have the clipping pasted to a recipe card, and it says that the original recipe came from the Good Housekeeping Step-by-Step Cookbook (1997), so the credit should go there. I have made some adjustments to the amount of sugar and rice, and a few other minor tweaks that I think make this rice pudding just a little bit better. Here you go.
½ vanilla bean (or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, added at the end with the raisins and nuts)
6 cups (1.5L) 1% milk
½ cup granulated sugar (I still think you could use less)
1 cup arborio rice
½ cup raisins
½ cup slivered almonds
¼ teaspoon salt
Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, and scrape the seeds out of the pod with a knife. Put the seeds and the empty pod into a large pot. Add milk and sugar, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Watch carefully that it doesn't boil over (scalded milk is a nightmare to clean from your porcelain stove top, trust me). Stir in the rice, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, put a lid on the pot, and simmer for about 1 ½ hours. Occasionally (every 5-10 min) give the pudding a stir to make sure the rice isn't sticking to the bottom. When the pudding is thick** and creamy, remove from heat, fish out the vanilla bean pod, and discard. I like to give it another scrape against the side of the pot at this point to squeeze out every last bit of vanilla flavour. And add raisins, almonds, and salt. Serve immediately, or chill and serve later.
*If you ever know anyone travelling to Mexico (Pamela!), get them to bring you some vanilla! It's grown locally, is cheap as beans, and is so good you will cry when it runs out. I always do.
**the pudding will continue to thicken as it cools, so pull it from the heat when it's still slightly looser than you'd like it to be
All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2010