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The Rice Fan Club

April 14, 1999|MARION CUNNINGHAM

Remarkable rice. Thousands of years old, feeding billions of people for centuries, the staple for half the world's population, and there it sits--tiny, plain and drab--in a bag on my kitchen shelf.

This nourishing grain has never had much respect in our country, but Italians have always been quite respectful of their famous risottos made with short-grain Arborio rice. I am now personally trying to elevate the status of our long-grain white rice to the lofty position it deserves.

Long-grain white rice is inexpensive and keeps indefinitely; one little cup of raw rice yields four cups cooked. It is very adaptable and mingles well with sauces, meats and vegetables.

Toasted Rice With Browned Butter enhances fish or chicken and makes a fine supper with farm cheese and warm wheat bread. The addition of browned butter (the simplest of sauces) gives the rice a full, rich flavor.

Cunningham's newest book, "Learning to Cook With Marion Cunningham" (Alfred A. Knopf), will be published in May.

Toasted Rice With Browned Butter

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 30 minutes

This dish can be prepared early in the day and reheated in the oven when ready to serve.

1 cup long-grain white rice

2 cups water

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter

* Spread rice in single layer on 17x13-inch jelly roll pan and bake at 350 degrees until lightly toasted, 7 to 10 minutes.

* Bring water to boil in deep, heavy-bottomed pot and add salt. Add toasted rice slowly so that water continues to boil. Stir to be sure no rice is sticking to bottom of pan, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.

* Meanwhile, melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat, tilting back and forth to keep butter moving as it melts. Watch carefully because butter will turn light brown in seconds. Remove from heat as soon as it turns deep tan in color, 2 to 3 minutes. (Do not use saucepan that is black on the interior because you won't be able to judge butter's color.) Set aside until rice is cooked. Stir browned butter into cooked rice and serve hot.

* Variation: Add 3 finely chopped green onions, 1 cup finely chopped watercress leaves, 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley and juice of 1 lemon to cooked rice and toss to mix well. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve warm.

4 (1-cup) servings. Each serving: 270 calories; 562 mg sodium; 31 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 37 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.14 gram fiber.

Best Rice Pudding

Active Work Time: 30 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour

Short- or medium-grain rice makes a creamier pudding than long-grain rice.

1 cup water

1/2 cup short- or medium-grain white rice

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 cup heavy whipping cream, plus extra for serving, optional

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

* Bring water to boil in 2-quart saucepan. Add rice and salt. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring 1 or 2 times, 10 minutes. Add milk and raisins, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

* Mix cream, vanilla, sugar and eggs in small bowl and set aside.

* Stir egg mixture into cooked rice until thoroughly incorporated. Pour mixture into 8 (6-ounce) buttered custard cups until 2/3 full or into buttered 8-inch square baking dish.

* Put custard cups or baking dish in another pan large enough to hold all and put in oven. Add boiling water until it comes 1 inch up side of larger pan. Bake at 350 degrees until custard is set and no longer jiggles when touched, about 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Drizzle cream over each serving if desired.

8 (1/2-cup) servings. Each serving: 298 calories; 207 mg sodium; 99 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 40 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.17 gram fiber.

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