RICE PUDDING or WHO GETS THE CROWN
Or we might as well call it The Apple Of Discord in my family. You see, everybody – could that be my Grandmother, could that be Mamma or even mum’s sister, Aunty Olga – they all thought they were holding the crown of the rice pudding.
Grandma would make it when she knew Dad is visiting her, for she thought she spoilt her boy with his favourite dish. My Dad was always gladly accepting an offer for a rice pudding after lunch at Grandma’s, but the moment he sees her back he will whisper “your mum cooks it better”.
Mamma wasn’t officially in the race for rice pudding title, but off the record she was quietly puffing up with importance when Dad says something like that.
On the other side of the family tree was perched Aunty Olga. She was right there between the branches of “cook as my mother taught me” and “anything you can do, I can do better”. But to tell you the truth she was right – she could do anything better. And she knew it! She was so devoted to please and offer the best for her family (to put the best shirt on our back or to plate the best meal on our table), that she would not blink a wink when her youngest grandson starts jumping in his cot at 11pm with screams “I want rice pudding!”...
I tried them all – Grandma’s rice pudding, Mamma’s, Aunty’s, even the one my Great-Aunt from Greece made for us when we went to visit her... And I made lots too. Mamma always was drumming on my head to be careful and put the rice in the last 15 minute or it will get mushy. I was not allowed to put in the sugar unless it is all cooked, or it’ll stop the cooking of the rice. There were special and strict rules of engagement.
As time passed and I got older and many meals went down my throat and I whisked many more meals, I started to build some sense of the harmony of each ingredient. They were having a special place in the music notebook of gastronomy. If I could really learn to read this music, I would know how to make my own melody...
So I thought to myself, Mamma says rice cooks slow when mixed with sugar in the milk. And I wanted thicker milk without adding cream, eggs or starch. I was scratching my head how to get the milk condensed while preserving the shape and texture of the rice? Add the sugar first! That is what I did. I added the sugar with the milk and vanilla paste, and gently scented with discrete citrus zest of a few lemon and orange peels. Rice was happily cooking for more than an hour in the milk mixture and its texture was still intact and very much al dente.
This is my new song of rice pudding that I’ve written from the old music notebooks of the women in my family. It is polyphonic harmony of ageless kitchen wisdom, love and passion to be the best.
And you know what, I love Grandma, Mamma, Aunty and all dear women I held by their skirts, but today I think I get the crown of the Rice Pudding Queen!
Come to my (kingdom) kitchen and try it. You’ll love it!
SOPHIA'S RICE PUDDING
2 litres of milk
1 measure cup of Arborio rice
6-8 table spoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of good quality vanilla paste
4 peels of orange
4 peels of lemon
(makes 8 servings)
Combine in deep heavy-bottomed pot milk, sugar, vanilla paste and citrus peels. Leave it on stove and bring to the boil. When it starts to boil, add the rice and immediately turn the heat down to the lowest. Watch the pot for the first 10 minutes so the milk doesn’t boil over and stir occasionally making sure the milk doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pot. Ensure you are cooking the pudding on the lowest possible heat of the stove. Check frequently, but stir gently and cook for over one hour or until you reach the desired thickness. When ready and thick to your taste, discard the citrus peels. Pour the rice pudding in serving dishes and refrigerate.
Serve with dust of ground cinnamon.
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