It never fails to fascinate me the power of food over emotion and how the taste of a particular dish or the smell of it cooking flashes up bygone memories. It makes me smile when I am asked to prepare a large pot of chicken soup when someone is feeling under the weather. Is it the ingredients that make them feel better or the emotional memories of a loved one preparing it for them as a child, sat home from school, snuggled on the sofa in a blanket?
Yesterday, I decided to cook a dish for a British friend who had told me how he missed “Rice Pudding” from back home. It’s a really simple and cheap dish, the pearls of rice swell during the long slow cooking process and become coated in a creamy, sweet, lush, nutmeg scented sauce protected from the elements by a skin of hardened protein. Delicious!
My Nan would prepare it for me when I used to visit her over school lunchtimes. It’s a traditional comfort food dish that any child growing up in 60’s and 70’s Britain will remember. (I cooked it many times for Princes’ William and Harry in the nursery and was always fascinated at how, like me, they would spoon raspberry jam into the bowl with the rice and stir it until it was pink.)
As my Nan got older and more frail, she would often spill a little of the milk as she was putting the dish into the oven and it would scorch. As soon as I walked into her house I knew immediately what were having for pudding. Some days she would “rest her eyes” while it was cooking and the top of the pudding would be black. “Well that got what it went in for” she would say, and we would laugh together as she scraped off the skin.
Here’s the recipe I made yesterday that brought back so many happy memories for me. And yes, I admit to spilling a little milk in the bottom of the oven… on purpose.
1 three pint casserole dish
½ cup Arborio rice
¼ cup Sugar
2 cups Milk
2 cups Evaporated milk (you can substitute this for milk or cream)
grated Nutmeg, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the rice, sugar and milks into the casserole dish and stir. Sprinkle the nutmeg over the milk. place in the center of the oven and cook for about 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes for the first hour and a half.
If the skin becomes too brown tent a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of the dish so as not to disturb the skin.