This is the quote from Gourmet Magazine, JANUARY 2002, that compelled me to make rice pudding like no other :
Francoise Joiris of New York, New York writes: “In honor of our firefighters lost on September 11, could you please rerun the article and recipes you published a few years back about Company 18 of the FDNY? This is our local company, and it suffered a great loss of men at the World Trade Center.” We’re happy to reprint this recipe, named for firefighter Steve “Gonzo” Gonzalez. Rice Pudding “Gonzo”.
For the longest time, I couldn’t make this recipe without tears in my eyes. Twenty years later, I remember the trauma of that day, as I am sure you do. Everyone who was alive then remembers exactly where they were when they heard about it. And we all remember, value, and cherish those firefighters and first responders who rushed into the burning towers–and those that continue to move into danger to protect and save others.
Rice pudding can be made in two different ways, stove top or in the oven. Cooking it on the stove yields a velvety, softer pudding. The oven version is not as creamy but has a nice crust. My family and friends love the silkiness of the stove top version. Especially when it is warm, rather than chilled. I have a friend of Greek heritage who said, after tasting it, “Now, this is REAL rice pudding!” High praise, indeed.
The recipe proportions are true to the original recipe although I have altered the order and procedures a bit. It takes a while for this rice pudding to cook, an hour of simmering, but it is well worth it. This is a good family, community recipe. Anyone tall enough (and old enough) to reach the stove top can stir it when walking by. My husband Allen would often monitor the situation if I left the kitchen to do something else when it was simmering. “Would you like me to stir the rice pudding?” he would holler. “Yes, thank you!” I would yell back. My friends and family know that my husband was a genuinely nice man, but in this case I think the helpfulness was truly fueled by his fear of burnt rice pudding when he knew I was busy and somewhat ditzy.
The first time I made this, I was concerned that one measly little cup of rice in all that milk would not make a thick, creamy pudding. But I followed the recipe and, as directed in the recipe, I did NOT rinse the rice. I think that helps because rinsing changes the texture of rice. When rice cooks, the water-or in this case, the milk-gets absorbed into the grain and helps thicken the rice and milk into custardy creaminess.
Be sure to stir the rice immediately and continually for just a couple of minutes when you are bringing the mixture to a boil. Otherwise, the starchiness of the rice globs onto the floor of the pot and tries to stick there forever. And it makes the pan a bear to clean.
For the first half an hour, it will look like nothing much is happening and that darn rice will never plump up. You may also see a skin on top, but just stir it back in. Eventually you will notice as you stir that rice is not immediately diving back down to the bottom of the pan. Then you will start to see that some rice is floating at the top–making progress.
After an hour, the mixture should look like a thick porridge. Remove it from the burner as you whisk the the eggs with the vanilla. Temper the eggs by spooning in a bit of the hot mixture and quickly mix. Continue this until you have about 1 cup of the hot stuff combined with the eggs. Then stir the egg mixture back into the rice mixture. Finally, mix the cream in thoroughly, and pour the rice pudding into a large dish or individual dishes.
This recipe is easy to adapt and vary according to your preferences or what you have on hand. I have used half-and-half at the end. Sometimes I make this with canned evaporated milk and skim milk when I am low on whole milk. I have used 2% milk and/or brown rice instead of white rice, When I have vanilla paste on hand, I love to use that instead of extract. You can even try almond extract.
My philosophy is that cooking recipes are guidelines or suggestions, kind of like the speed limit. Yep, ask my family about this…
Seriously, you should feel free to improvise with ingredients and allow some freestyle cooking as you get comfortable with new ingredients, cooking methods, and especially if you have dietary constraints. If it doesn’t turn out perfectly, don’t worry, mistakes happen. Your family and friends will still applaud your effort. I will have to share the story of my “Fish Chowder for the In-Laws on Christmas Eve the First Year I was Married” some day – a true cooking disaster! But we all lived through it.
On that note, here is a wonderful, comforting, and extremely satisfying recipe for rice pudding.
RICE PUDDING “GONZO”
- 2 quarts whole milk (that’s 1/2 gallon, or 8 cups)
- 1 cup long grain white rice, unrinsed
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
- About 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Stir milk, rice, sugar, butter, and salt together in a large, heavy saucepan (at least 4 quarts). Cook over moderately high heat until it comes to a boil. Be sure to stir continually for the first few minutes to make sure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until rice is tender, about 1 hour. Rice should be soft, with no resistance to the tooth.
Whisk eggs and vanilla together. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from stove. Slowly add about 1 cup of the rice mixture to the egg mixture, stirring continually. Stir this tempered egg mixture back into the rice mixture; add the cream and stir until well combined.
Pour pudding into a glass or ceramic baking dish, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Allow to cool at room temperature for as much as two hours before serving if you like it warm. Or chill, covered, in the refrigerator until serving, up to 3 days. Keep any leftover rice pudding in the refrigerator, covered.