FOOD editor Leslie Brenner was wowed by the creamy rice pudding at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. Dense and luscious, heady with cinnamon and vanilla and fragrant with a bit of orange zest, it's served heaped into big bowls -- the helpings are large, and they're meant to be shared (we've downsized them a bit). The yummy surprise is a pool of bittersweet chocolate melted underneath the blanket of warm pudding. Make sure you go all the way to the bottom with your spoon.
Spanish rice pudding with chocolate surprise
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Note: From a recipe by Rustic Canyon Wine Bar pastry chef Roxana Julapat. The restaurant uses Valenciano rice, which can be found at Spain Restaurant in Los Angeles, La Espanola in Harbor City or at www.spanishtable.com.
1 cup high-quality, starchy short- or medium-grain rice
3 cups whole milk, divided
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/2 cinnamon stick
Small pinch grated nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
Peel of 1/4 orange
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch kosher salt
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Orange zest for garnish, optional
1. Place the rice, 2 cups of the milk, the vanilla bean and seeds, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, cloves and orange peel in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat while stirring occasionally until the milk comes to a good simmer, about 15 minutes.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low (barely a simmer) and continue to cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until the rice is tender, about 1 hour. As the rice softens and the liquid reduces, the mixture will become quite thick; at this point it is important to gently stir constantly so the rice won't stick and burn onto the bottom of the pot. If the mixture is too thick, thin it out with extra milk, a couple of tablespoons at a time and up to 1 cup total.
3. When the rice is tender, remove from the heat. Taste for sweetness and adjust the sugar if necessary. Remove the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean pod.
4. Place about 1 tablespoon of chopped chocolate at the bottom of six individual heat-resistant bowls. Divide the warm rice pudding evenly among the bowls. Garnish with fresh grated orange zest if using and serve immediately.
Each serving: 590 calories; 13 grams protein; 97 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 20 grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 25 mg. cholesterol; 129 mg. sodium.