Like I said before, winter’s fast drawing to a close whether we like it or not. I know this because I’m sitting in bed typing out a blog post and I’m not wearing multiple layers of wool tights, fluffy socks, pajama pants, merino thermals, thick wool jumpers (the answer to “but didn’t you get uncomfortably hot in the night?” is yes).
And like I said last time, I’m not so reluctant to let go of winter anymore. It’s the sunshine, the flowering trees heavy with anticipatory buds, that wonderful feeling we take for granted the rest of the year of leaving the house and coming home from work while it’s still light out. And I’m getting so excited for asparagus.
But the nights are still chilly (ish) and there are still plenty of pears on supermarket shelves and I’m sure we’ll be hit with one last polar blast before we can truly say spring is here. So, okay, we’re cautiously watching the ebb of the bleak, cold signs of winter. But we can still enjoy comforting puddings like this one.
Rice pudding is one of those polarising desserts that people seem to love or hate: maybe it’s the texture, or having had too many stodgy, mealy rice puddings as a child. I remember my parents eating it when I was growing up, though I was never interested: to me, rice was something you eat along with Asian food, a savoury thing, a staple food, not something that would be good in a dessert. But I came around eventually, which is good, because rice pudding can be So Good – creamy, silky, sweet and comforting – and can take on so many different flavour variations.
So I was excited to see a slew of different rice pudding recipes while browsing through the June/July issue of Donna Hay, enough that I was convinced to buy the magazine and try out some of the variations. This was probably my favourite: the rice is cooked in coconut milk rather than cow’s milk, and drizzled with a syrup made from poaching pears in palm sugar syrup. YES.
In the end I made some changes to the recipe, mostly based on what I had in my cupboards, but found it turned out beautifully: I used a combination of half-milk, half-coconut milk (because I only had about 2 cups of coconut milk) and 2 pears instead of 4 (I only had 2 pears in the fruit bowl). It was still nice and coconutty even with less coconut milk, and I found that half a pear for each serving was just fine. Feel free to use all coconut milk if you like (as the original recipe had it) – this would be especially good for people who are trying to avoid dairy. I imagine it would work well with half-coconut milk, half-almond milk as well.
I have a feeling the coconut rice pudding would work really well with fresh strawberries, mangoes, pineapple, peach – so there’s definitely potential to keep this recipe around beyond the end of winter (today!).
COCONUT RICE PUDDING WITH PALM SUGAR & CINNAMON-POACHED PEARS
(adapted from Donna Hay #57, Jun/Jul 2011)
Peel 2 rather firm pears, slice in half and remove the cores. In a saucepan big enough to fit 4 pear halves, place 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 cup (270g) grated palm sugar and 4 cups water. Heat, stirring, over high heat until all the sugar is dissolved, then bring the heat down to low. Place the pear halves into the simmering liquid, cover and poach until tender. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Once the pears are done, remove from the liquid and bring the heat back up to high; reduce the liquid until it starts to get all syrupy and amazing-looking. Also, your kitchen should smell beautiful right about now.
Meanwhile, bring 1 cup arborio rice, 1 litre coconut milk (or 2 cups coconut milk + 2 cups milk) and 1/2 cup caster sugar to the boil in a saucepan placed over high heat. Give it a good stir and reduce the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 25-30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Once it’s ready the rice will be tender and the liquid will have thickened somewhat so that it’s silky in texture.
Serve hot, topped with a poached pear half and plenty of syrup. Amazing.