Rice pudding is one of my ultimate comfort foods, and standing near the warm stove with a simmering pot of creamy goodness is a favorite winter activity of mine. The incredible smell of spices filling the house is, of course, an added bonus - so lets be honest with ourselves here, there is nothing bad about making a big batch of rice pudding!
I think a lot of my nostalgia and love for rice pudding comes from a completely non-winter experience... in fact a totally tropical one! I spent some time just after college living and working in an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, and spent every lunch and dinnertime for six months sitting at a table with a group of newly admitted young boys. During these moments around the table, we ate simple Dominican classics and the boys were on their best behavior (a much needed moment of quiet in an otherwise rambunctious place!). One of those classic dishes was arroz con leche - a simple and hardly sweet version of rice pudding. Whole allspice berries and cloves were carefully set to the side of the plate as we ate our way through.
While very few would consider a full plate of rice pudding a balanced dinner, I can't help but justify it on occasion thinking back to those meals with my house-full of sweet Dominican kids. It kept me going then, and it'll keep me going now! That said... rice pudding is much more often eaten in my house as a simple dessert or an afternoon snack these days.
This rice pudding is made with arborio rice, which is the short grain Italian rice used to make risotto. This rice is particularly starchy, so it creates an amazing thick rice pudding if you cook it down long enough. I love how elegantly it can be served as it holds it's shape so well. Cook it a little less, and you'll have a creamier, thinner pudding!
Rice pudding in my house is most often an indian inspired affair, cooked with whole vanilla bean and cardamom -- but I wanted to mix things up with this recipe and use what has become one of my favorite spices right now. Star anise has such a rich and distinctive flavor, it makes a perfect alternative to my traditional cardamom. Plus it is just so gosh darn pretty!
I love the simplicity of making rice pudding, and I think that you will too!
3/4 cup arborio rice
6 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
5 whole star anise stars
- Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan, and place over medium-high heat. If you're using the vanilla extract as opposed to vanilla bean, save that to add later.
- Bring to a gentle simmer, then turn the heat down to about medium. You don't want it to boil, just to continue simmering very gently.
- Cook the mixture for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally at the beginning and more frequently as it starts to thicken to prevent it from sticking or burning.
- Remove the pan from heat when it's reached your desired consistency. As you can see from the photos, I cooked mine to be very thick - this is the rice pudding I was in the mood for. You can just as easily stop the cooking a bit earlier and have a thinner pudding! Just remember that it will thicken as it cools.
- If you're using vanilla extract, stir it in when you remove the pan from the heat.