Something has happened. There used to be no stopping me from gravitating straight toward the chocolate. In Baskin Robbins, I had no control over my constant need for chocolate raspberry truffle, and therefore tasted almost no other flavors for about six years. My mom could hide all the candy in the house and I wouldn’t notice, but if chocolate had a hiding place, I could find it in a flash. Lately, my long-standing chocolate obsession has taken a backseat to simpler things. Exhibit A: this little rice pudding number, featured in the latest issue of gourmet. I turned the page to the letters section, noticed the recipe for rice pudding with (gulp) nutmeg as the only flavoring (not even vanilla!) and thought, I. must. make. this. now.
So I did.
Where has all the chocolate gone? No matter. If you make this rice pudding, I guarantee you won’t miss chocolate, no, not one little bit. Nutmeg may sound “simple” when you shake it from the jar into your carrot soup (the subject of a later post…stay tuned!) But when it’s freshly grated, when it stands alone on arborio rice — with just some milk, cream and sugar to pull the pudding together — why, nothing could be more complex.
Nutmeg is a “warm” spice, at once spicy and sweet, with a real bite and a pleasant bitterness that make it irresistible. In the jar, its flavor gets somewhat muted, so grate some from a whole nutmeg whenever possible. I bought 20 whole nutmeg pieces for a buck fifty, so it shouldn’t set you back much, and it’s truly worth it.
Now, I’ll be honest: I didn’t stop at the nutmeg. After all, something as simple as rice pudding provides a golden opportunity to play around. I happened to buy a (relatively) big box of saffron a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been waiting for a chance to use it. What better than a bright yellow, saffron-nutmeg flavored rice pudding? So it was settled.
Aside from the nutmeg, what drew me to this recipe was the stirring — or lack thereof. Typically, rice pudding means hovering over the stove until your back aches, stirring the thing around and around so it doesn’t clump or stick or overcook. Needless to say, it’s a pain. But this recipe was for baked pudding: simply mix the ingredients in the ramekins themselves, stick’em on a baking sheet, and bake’em in the oven for an hour. Let’s face it — not much could be easier. And I’d be surprised if you don’t scrape your bowl clean, as I did. Saffron-Nutmeg Rice Pudding: my entry for this month’s Sugar High Friday.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/3 cup Arborio rice
- 8 tsp. sugar
- whole nutmeg
- 12 threads saffron
- 4 Tbsp. heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and put rack in the middle. Butter the ramekins.
- Add 1/2 cup milk, 4 tsp. rice, 2 tsp. sugar, and a pinch of salt to each ramekin. Grate a bit of nutmeg over each, and put 3 threads of saffron in each. Stir well to combine, and ensure that the spices don’t float, if possible.
- Put ramekins in a shallow baking pan and bake until most of the milk is absorbed and the tops are golden-brown, about 1 hour.
- A skin will form on each ramekin; remove the skin.
- Stir 1 Tbsp. cream into each pudding until creamy. Allow to cool, and if desired, refrigerate 30 minutes until chilled.
- Enjoy — don’t forget to scrape your ramekin to the last drop.