It’s late at night, and I’m hungry. This is not an unfamiliar place for me to be. So I’m staring into the pantry, looking for the tuna that nobody has bought, because I’ve had this reoccurring late night craving for tuna casserole. By reoccurring I meant for the past year at least, and the reasons that this craving has never been satisfied are as follows:
- No one in my family buys tuna. Ever since our magnificent cat, Fuzzy, passed away (and yes this cat deserves the euphemism), tuna purchases in the Aboul-Fotouh household have really dropped.
- I’ve never actually had tuna casserole, and I’m going to go ahead and say I’m 100% certain of this fact because I remember every meal of my life. The honey-buttered-crusts-cut toast of my picky eating childhood, the unpleasant ricotta-stuffed lasagna of my grade school cafeteria days (and that tomato soup and grilled cheese, don’t get me started on the dazzling effects of sweet, canned tomato soup on an unsuspecting child’s palate. I can easily go through cans of that stuff now), the avocado cream sauce on the pasta I ate at my high school graduation dinner. All meals. Stored. Saved forever.
- I have this soul-deep feeling that making a 1 AM bastardized version of tuna casserole is not going to work out for me. Knowing what we usually have in the pantry, and having read “Tuna Casserole” I-IV on allrecipes, I would probably end up making some weird paste of whole wheat pasta, skim milk (we never have anything but skim milk in the house, which will feature later in this story after the tuna casserole tale is told), really old shredded cheddar cheese, and a can of albacore tuna that dates back to the Fuzzy days. This would be some nasty tuna casserole. I would end up throwing it away, then covering it in newspaper to hide the shame of wasting so much food.
Getting back on track, I’m looking in the pantry. And what do I see but a package of Arborio rice? Previous trauma prevented me from making risotto, but why not make rice pudding? The comfort food of days gone by. One of the few deserts that my mother, who I love and who is an excellent cook and who fed 4 hungry children after coming home from work every day for forever, ever made.
I rinsed the rice to get rid of the pantry funk, which I know is against the rules for Arborio because what business do I have washing away any of that precious starch, but really it was a necessary step in this case. I started a pot triple the volume of the rice (oh how naïve I was) on the stove with the rice and milk to two inches above the rice. I squeezed some honey around, put about ½ cup of sugar. Then I started rummaging again.
I knew the handicaps I was facing. Nothing but skim milk in the house, when I would have preferred whole. So I decided – hey – if this is going to be some thin, fat-less rice pudding, I’m at least going to make it tasty.
So other than dropping in a precious tablespoon of butter , I plopped in a few more potent flavors.
|Yes there is a pinata in the background.|
Into the pot went: a stick of cinnamon (kashia let’s not lie to ourselves) and some imitation vanilla for tradition’s sake. Two cardamom pods because I just KNEW they would be amazing. And two black peppercorns (and honestly, in retrospect, two more would have done the job) for a little old-school burn. A cup or so of raisins from the depth of our fridge, because no matter how weird they get in the fridge, once they plump up they become beautiful and everything that those 1800s Americans adored in their plum cakes and plum puddings and plum deserts. And finally, a handful of shredded and sweetened coconut in keeping with the cardamom, and if I had some coconut milk I wouldn’t be typing this but drowning my face in some uncomfortably hot but out-of-this-world rice pudding. Mmmm.
I stirred and stirred, and added more and more milk (I know this is a lot like the risotto process, but I don’t use the r-word aloud in this house), and more and more milk. I finished three separate quarts of milk, none of which were full at the beginning, in the process. Lactose-free, vitamin-enhanced, and CVS-brand all went in without judgment.
Finally, when I could happily chew the Arborio grains, I gave the pot a final boil. Now here is one of the life lessons that has come from this late night escapade: when you are cooking Arborio, please use a bigger pot than would ever seem reasonable. The pot was filled to the brim by the end. You should never be afraid to stir your rice pudding. It just goes against the nature of this cooking process.
I removed the cinnamon stick, and decided the other spices would be lovely surprises for those who ate the pudding, and ladled it out into a set of dishes to chill. The dishes are now chilling, as I’m typing and planning on finally sleeping.
But I’m fully confident in the superiority of this rice pudding, having snuck many spoonfuls in the tasting process. The last dainty taste I had, as I was loading the Tupperware into the fridge, was mind-blowing. This is some good rice pudding, y’all.
SO. TL;DR – Skim milk sucks for cooking. Arborio rice is greedy. Use a big pot. And when making rice pudding, add some cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper corns, and coconut and you’re in business. Too bad I’m working out the copyright process so you can’t actually be in business. HAHA.
Spiced Rice Pudding Recipe
-2 cups Arborio rice
-1 gallon milk, skim works!
-2 tbsp butter
-1/2 cup white sugar
-1/4 cup honey
-1 stick cinnamon
-2 cardamom pods
-3-4 black peppercorns
-1/4 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
-kosher salt to taste (I think I used about a teaspoon in the end)
-1/2 cup raisins (optional)
Place rice and milk to cover about a knuckle above the rice in a LARGE pot on medium-high heat. Add all of the remaining ingredients except for the milk. Once the mixture is boiling, lower the heat, and stir well. When the rice is peeking above the liquid, add more milk. Continue like this for 30-40 minutes, until the rice is cooked (not mushy, but not crunchy any more), and the remaining liquid around the rice sticks to the back of a spoon. Now here is the trick. Add even more milk even after you think you’ve finished cooking, at least a cup or two, and even if it looks too thin, pour this mixture out into your containers. Refrigerate overnight, the rice will soak up even more liquid. Enjoy!