This isn’t a pretty dessert, let’s face it. But then so many treats that you could label comforting aren’t usually, are they? And I would put this in the same category as bread and butter pudding, rice or semolina pudding, even french toast or pancakes. It’s simply good, rather wholesome, definitely rustic and absolutely homely.
An oldie (literally; it comes from Pellegrino Artusi’s classic cookbook from 1891) but a goodie, I’ve made a few modifications to the nineteenth century version. This baked rice pudding was a constant when my mother in law, Angela, was growing up, and it was often served with the family’s favourite dessert topping of warm, liquid chocolate (a mixture of cocoa powder, sugar and warm milk with a spoon full of flour, a bit like a thick hot chocolate), spooned over the top. Being such a simple preparation, you could jazz this pudding up with some stewed or fresh fruit, depending on the season, some fresh cream, whipped until slightly thickened, or you could swirl some homemade jam (I would go for lemon marmalade) or chopped chocolate through the rice before cooking. Flavour-wise, it’s really a blank canvas, gently flavoured with some lemon zest and vanilla (plus a hint of rum if you like it) so if you want to change things up, it’s perfect for that. I can’t help but think of it as bread and butter pudding but made with rice instead – it tastes remarkably familiar to me because of this — so anything you might do to a bread and butter pudding I think you could do to this!
Like most baked puddings, this is definitely best eaten when it has not long been out of the oven. It doesn’t keep well for longer than a day or two as the rice tends to harden (I eat the leftovers for breakfast the next day). So although it’s usually made in one large baking dish, if you’re serving fewer people you can halve this quantity and bake in individual ramekins.
This recipe is from my third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, a collection of family recipes from Taranto to Turin to Tuscany, published by Hardie Grant Books.
Budino di Riso (Baked rice pudding)
750 ml milk or as needed
160 grams short-grain rice such as arborio
100 grams of sugar
½ vanilla pod, seeds scraped
zest of 1 lemon (and orange is also nice)
40 grams butter, plus more for greasing
100 grams of raisins
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
splash or more of rum, cognac or vin santo (optional but I highly recommend it)
1 tablespoon breadcrumbs (if making this gluten free, you can use almond meal)
Place the rice in the milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer with a pinch of salt. After 10 minutes, add the sugar, vanilla seeds, lemon zest and butter and continue cooking over low-medium heat for 30 minutes or until the rice is very soft and the milk is almost all absorbed (if you notice the rice is absorbing the milk too quickly, add more milk – up to another 250 ml – until the rice is cooked). Remove from heat.
Heat oven to 180ºC.
When the rice mixture has cooled slightly but is still hot, add the raisins, eggs, yolks and rum and stir well.
Grease a solid 25cm cake tin or similar sized baking dish with butter and scatter over breadcrumbs to coat all sides. Pour the rice mixture into the tin or dish and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.