Rice is one of those things we often take for granted. It's a pile on a plate with something on top. Growing up it was pretty much like that in my house with an occasional foray to a friend's whose mom had become "health conscious" and served brown rice, albeit mushy and characterless. Well no more of that now; seeing as how rice is a universal staple, with a tremendous number of tasty varieties, it's finally been given the place of honor it deserves. I brought in 2 types of rice for Monty (producer of Everyday Food) and Shavon (engineer) to try along with what you might call a ringer. Below are photos of all the rice that we tasted on air.
After our tasting, we were joined by Jeff Koehler, author of "Rice Pasta Couscous: The Heart of the Mediterranean Kitchen." He's a man who is passionate about rice. We talked aromatic rices, his current favorite being jasmine -- slightly sticky with floral notes and brown rice. Brown rice is a whole grain as its husk , but the bran hasn't been removed, while white rice has had both the husk and the bran layer underneath removed. Brown rice, once cooked, and it takes a while longer than white rice -- has a good chew and a fair amount of fiber.
Next time you're at the market, pick up a variety you haven't tried before. Think risotto, paella, pilafs, rice soups, sushi, the list goes on and on. And while you're at it, make more than you'll need for one meal. Cold rice, tossed into a pan with bits of vegetables and protein, makes the best fried rice imaginable.
And how could I talk about rice without mentioning one of my favorites-rice pudding! Gina DePalma, pastry chef at New York City's Babbo Restaurant stopped by to talk puddings with me and shared her thoughts on the best rice pudding ever. Made with arborio rice, the stubby, starchy rice typically used for risotto, it makes a super creamy (without cream) pudding. I made a pot last night and had a hard time stopping myself from eating, well, most of it. Gina folds lightly whipped cream into hers at the end, but I resisted. Here's my take on Gina's pudding:
Sandy's Take on Gina's Rice Pudding
3/4 cup Arborio rice
4 cups (1 quart) whole milk (although I used 2% and it was still delicious)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
2 strips (about 2 by 1/2-inch each) orange zest
1/2 cup heavy cream, lightly whipped, optional
In a medium pot of boiling water, cook rice 2 minutes; drain. Add 3 cups milk, sugars, vanilla bean (if using extract, don't put in now), cinnamon, orange zest, rice, and a big pinch of salt to pot and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, and adding more milk as necessary until thick and creamy, about 35 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and orange zest and discard. Remove vanilla bean, rinse and let air dry and reserve for another use. If using vanilla extract, stir it in now. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled. If you like, fold in whipped cream before serving.