Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The ultimate comfort food

When I was young, there was only one kind of rice, short-grain, and it was mostly used for one thing - rice pudding. Made properly, it's very good. But I never much liked the skin on top, no matter how golden it was. And it takes two and a half hours in a slow oven, so it doesn't make sense unless you're cooking something else which takes that long.          
           One of the friends we had round in the weekend for corned beef doesn't eat gluten, so puddings can be a bit of a challenge. I was thinking about a lovely sticky compote of winter fruit, but what could I serve with it? It was too cold for ice cream.
           Then I had a sudden inspiration: rice pudding! Not the usual kind, though - I wanted the creamy sweet version you can cook much more quickly on top of the stove. I thought I had the recipe I wanted in my Lois Daish folder, and I was right. In fact it wasn't hers, it came from her friend Anne England, who was then (in 2000) running Two Rooms restaurant in Miramar. (I never managed to eat there, sadly, it had a great reputation.)

Two Rooms Rice Pudding
(Anne England via Lois Daish,
Listener, 1 April 2000)
(serves 4)

55g (3 tablespoons) short grain rice
(I couldn't find anything called "short" in the supermarket, so I used "medium" and that seemed to work fine. But I wonder if it would be even better made with arborio rice?)
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sugar
575ml (2 and 1/2 cups) full cream milk
4 tablespoons cream
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk (I used 4)
pinch salt
(I added a small teaspoon of vanilla paste, a thoughtful Christmas present)

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan. Slowly bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a bare simmer and cook gently for about 30 minutes (mine took a bit longer, I don't think I got it hot enough to start with.) While the rice is cooking, use a wooden spoon to carefully stir from the bottom of the pot. Push down from the sides of the pot too, where it could stick and burn. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you make it in advance and want to reheat it, you may need to stir in a little more cream or milk to loosen the texture.

With this, we had a winter fruit compote made of Otago dried apricots and golden kiwifruit. I pre-soaked the apricots in some reduced white wine combined with a sugar syrup, then cooked them slowly for about half an hour in a small saucepan, while I briefly pre-poached the peeled and halved kiwifruit in the microwave with a little of the soaking liquid. Then I put the fruit together in a shallow oval ovenproof dish, checked for sweetness and baked it all for about an hour in the bottom of a slow oven while other things cooked there. The idea is to get both the apricots and the kiwifruit thoroughly cooked, so they're soft, but keep their shape, and the liquid reduces to a lovely sticky syrup that isn't too sweet, so it doesn't kill the wonderful sharp notes in the fruit. But watch it to make sure there is some syrup, you don't want it to disappear. You can use other kinds of dried fruit as well, or other fresh fruits, but the dried apricots are essential.

The combination of this fruit with the soft creamy slightly caramel-tasting rice pudding was blissful.
Anne England finished her pudding off with a sugar glaze, melted with a cook's blowtorch. I don't have one so I didn't even try it, and I don't think it's necessary. Here's what Lois wrote: "At home, I am content to eat this pudding still warm from the pot, without the bother of glazing the top. The flavour is so friendly that I don't even serve fruit with it." I love that word "friendly" - that's exactly how it tasted. And the leftovers made a sublime Sunday breakfast.


Deborah said...

This sounds divine. Alas, my daughters won't eat milk puddings, so I miss out on the joy of rice pudding. The compote sounds delicious too. I suspect the girls would eat it, perhaps topped with tiny meringues (sans cream).

AnneE said...

Make a bit of the rice for yourself! (I say this knowing perfectly well that by the time I've provided what other people want to eat I don't usually have the energy to amke something different or extra for myself. But this doesn't take long and sits quietly in the fridge waiting to be eaten in small bowlfuls...