I find it hard to believe that this is my first Mark Bittman recipe. But there you have it. Bittman, he of Minimalist, How to Cook Everything, and PBS fame, is not necessarily one of my favorite columnists. I like that he tries to demystify and simplify things in the kitchen, but clip and save as I might, his recipes don't usually tickle my cooking fancy. At 5:30 this morning, though, when I couldn't sleep and wanted nothing more to be standing in my kitchen doing something, I decided to try one out.
A few winters ago, Bittman wrote a piece on the ease of rice pudding in his NY Times column, calling it both "rustic and elegant". I'm not sure I'd agree with the latter, but I do think rice pudding is among the best puddings in the world. Growing up in Berlin, the days we were served rice pudding for lunch (with the choice of a healthy dusting of cinnamon sugar on top, or a ladleful of sour cherry compote alongside) were stellar days indeed. That's when the lunch line seemed especially long. This morning I even contemplated eating it for breakfast.
Sadly, this recipe resulted in something more akin to milk soup than rice pudding. I take partial responsibility, at least. First of all, not having clipped the article along with the recipe, I didn't know that Bittman cautioned against using anything but whole milk. I used a mixture of skim and 1%. I suppose I could have realized that nonfat milk has nothing left over with which to thicken itself, but isn't hindsight 20/20? Also, in the early morning fog of sleep, I used a wet measure for the sugar, which I think might have been the reason the pudding was cloyingly sweet.
The flavorings were spot on: a pinch of saffron and a 2-inch cinnamon stick (taken out after the cooking was done) perfumed the pudding beautifully. The long oven time had begun to caramelize the milk, which added another layer of flavor. But the rice (plain California) was unpleasantly grainy. Bittman says any kind of rice can be used, and by all means not to shell out extra for Arborio rice. But Arborio's whole meaning in life is to become creamy with the addition of liquid, so why on earth wouldn't you use it for rice pudding?
I didn't mind slurping up a bowl of it after lunch, but I wouldn't serve it to anyone else, and now I'm wondering what to do with the rest of the milk soup that's resting in the fridge...