If I could tell my younger self that one day I would be encouraging people to make rice pudding, I wouldn’t have believed it. It was the dish I dreaded most at school: stodgy, lukewarm and overcooked. However, sun-soaked trips to Mexico cured me of this aversion. There, plump and tender grains bathe in chilled scented creams, and the result is subtle and delicious. Here, I have taken a Persian lean with stunning colours from the apricots, saffron and pistachios; it’s fabulous served in warm weather.
Persian rice pudding with apricot and pistachios
You can make this a day or two in advance, so it’s perfect for parties, and it’s quite rich, so you won’t need much.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr
90g caster sugar
1 litre whole milk
1 cinnamon stick
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g risotto rice, rinsed
4 tbsp double cream
1 tbsp orange blossom water
1 pinch saffron, soaked in 3 tbsp hot water
40g toasted pistachios, chopped, to serve
1 big pinch dried rose petals, to serve (optional)
For the apricots
150g dried apricots, plus extra to serve
2 tbsp honey
6 cardamom pods, shells cracked open
1 cinnamon stick
Zest of ½ lemon
Cut each apricot in half to make two thin discs. Put them in a small pan with 300ml water, the honey, cardamom seeds, cinnamon stick and lemon zest. Bring to a simmer, cook for 15 minutes, then take off the heat and leave to cool and infuse for at least half an hour (I make this the night before).
To make the rice pudding, put the sugar, milk, cinnamon stick, orange zest, vanilla and rice in a large, heavy-based saucepan set over a medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat to low. Simmer very gently for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is completely soft – watch it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan towards the end of the cooking time. Remove from the heat, stir in the double cream, orange blossom water and saffron, and leave to cool.
Once cool, cover and put in the fridge to chill – you can do this a day or two in advance if you want to get ahead. When you’re ready to serve, discard the cinnamon stick and spoon the pudding into bowls. Top with a few apricots and a little syrup, sprinkle over the pistachios and rose petals, and serve.
And for the rest of the week
If you’re serving this to grown-ups, try adding two to three tablespoons of muscat to the poached apricots, for a luxurious finish. If you, like I once did, shudder at the thought of rice pudding, consider churning this recipe in an ice-cream machine with 600ml double cream and a few tablespoons of brown sugar – it makes an extremely good ice-cream.